Door Number 3, a new production company transplanted from Portland, Oregon, makes an impressive Los Angeles début with a slickly energetic staging of British playwright Philip Ridley’s fierce black comedy, Radiant Vermin. Set squarely in England, a struggling young couple, Ollie (Kapil Talwalkar) and his pregnant wife, Jill (Britt Harris), are lured into a mysterious quasi-governmental program by Miss Dee (Laura Faye Smith), a smartly dressed real estate type, who wants to give them, gratis, a house in an unfinished development near a closed down factory. To say that the house needs work is an understatement. No wiring, no plumbing, no appliances, raw wood. Ollie is suspicious, but Jill is enthusiastic with idea. For the apparatchik, Miss Dee, their occupancy would be the seed that might rekindle the area, drawing in other potential residents. An audience will smoke out that there is something hinky about the arrangement. Reluctantly, Ollie signs off on the deal and the couple takes possession. So far, so good.
But, as is common in rundown areas, there are homeless people nearby that engender fear in the young couple who are huddling in an unfinished upstairs bedroom, especially when they hear movement downstairs. When the timorous Ollie sneaks down to see what’s up, he tussles with someone with enough energy to actually cause death. And here is where the play lurches into magic realism. The dead body sparkles and voilà, a finely finished kitchen appears causing consternation in the couple and no small amount of delight, especially for Jill.
Radiant Vermin is brilliantly staged by Door Number 3 artistic director, Tim True, on a multilevel unit set by Pete Hickok (with excellent lighting by Bosco Flanagan) that represents the unfinished house complete with roof joists, wall studs, and raw wooden stairs. There are no props and the energetic leading couple mime everything. Mr. Talwalkar and Ms. Harris are nothing short of breathlessly brilliant and they engage the audience directly to tell their story, peering straight into eyes and enlisting responses. I even had my hand shook. Not even halfway into the two-act play, I marveled at the line load that the actors deliver to flawless perfection. In a second act tour de force, the two young players deliver a garden party for their year-old son that lurches out of control. No less than four quirky neighbor couples and a pair of teenagers are rendered in rotating sets to hilarious, breathless perfection.
Besides delivering the smooth talking Miss Dee to suspicious precision, Ms. Smith also touches the heart with her hapless, homeless woman, Kay.
Radiant Vermin simmers at first, making this audience member quizzical at the story telling nature of the piece, but soon it heats up driving to a spattering messy boil of a climax and a simmering dénoument.
Completing the creative team is the reliably excellent sound designer, Christopher Moscatiello, and costume designer Valerie Stevens. Karen Osborne manages the stage with aplomb.
Door Number 3’s Radiant Vermin, an Odyssey Visiting Production, runs through November 18 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles.