‘Radiant Vermin’ tackles homelessness through fast-moving dark comedy

Imagine if you could have the home of your dreams without paying a cent but would need to sacrifice your own sense of morality. That’s what happens in “Radiant Vermin,” a work by English playwright Philip Ridley, where Ollie and Jill, a young English couple, pay the ultimate price in acquiring their dream home and in the process, force the audience to confront their own views on homelessness. Philadelphia’s Inis Nua Theatre Company tackles the fast-moving play through Nov. 6. We chat with director Claire Moyer about production challenges as well as making plays from the UK relevant to Philly audiences.

This play is pretty lengthy but it flies by.

It’s an hour and 50 minutes actually. The play is 110 pages long. Yeah, as you saw, it is built to move. Some plays have a structure that allows for intermission but this is built to go straight through.

What drew you to produce it?
We were looking at different options for next season and I work with Tom Ring, the artistic director, to put the whole season together. He handed this onto me and I wasn’t sure it was the right fit, having read some of the playwright’s other stuff. But then I read this one and loved the sense of humor. I loved how dark it was. I loved how far it goes. I kept expecting for there to be a way out for the characters. It was a scary play to do and that’s kind of why I picked it. I felt like it would be a real genuine challenge and something I would need to work really hard on and I wanted that challenge.

What were the rehearsals like? With the actors playing multiple roles, it must have been challenging.
We had a lot to do in a short amount of time but it was actually a very enjoyable process. Adam and Emily came in so prepared to do this so that made it really great. For the party scene in particular they played ten different roles together. I had a system to highlighting my scripts to remember who was who.

By the end of the play, Philip Ridley makes you feel even more awful about homelessness. What are your thoughts on that?
He makes the audience complicit, absolutely, and I think he is really clever in that because it would be really easy for us to sit there and judge Jill and Ollie. He asks the audience to participate in the process of deciding how they should renovate their house. I think his commentary — and honestly I can’t really speak for him — but from having spent time working on the play, I think that the strongest thing he is looking at is the dehumanization of people. It is really easy for us to dismiss homeless people. If there is sort of one strong message at the end of the play, it’s that moment where they ask you to realize that in walking by a homeless person each day, in not being charitable to the people in your community, you are just as bad as Jill and Ollie are.

Inis Nua is dedicated to producing contemporary plays from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. How do you make these works relevant to Philly audiences?
We do a good job with trying to curate a season that feels relevant and is tied into what Philadelphia is experiencing today. Last season, we did a play specifically about literacy and education and it was a really amazing opportunity to do some work with the Free Library of Philadelphia. We look for plays that have a reason to be done here and now in Philadelphia. There’s no reasons to do these plays if they don’t feel relevant.

“Radiant Vermin” runs through Nov. 6 and tickets can be purchased here.

More from our Sister Sites