by Philip Ridley
Kitchen Dog Theater
Ollie – Jake Buchanan*
Jill – Kristen Lazarchick
Miss Dee/Kay – Kateri Cale
*member, Actors Equity Association
Director – Tim Johnson
Stage Manager – Theresa Kellar
Set Design – Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting Design – Adam Chamberlin
Costume Design – Melissa Panzarello
Sound Design – John M. Flores
Props – Matt Duvall
Tech Director – Dane Tuttle
Vocal Coach – Anne Schilling
Assistant Director – Eric A. Berg
Reviewed Performance: 10/4/2018
Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
“Radiant Vermin” is the kickoff show for Kitchen Dog Theatre’s 28th season. If this show is indicative of the excellence of their productions, you should run out and grab yourself season tickets. Kitchen Dog provides its audience with an exceptional and memorable night of theatre with “Radiant Vermin,” a fast-paced black comedy that engages its audience on multiple levels. There are lots of laughs to enjoy in the course of this 105-minute no intermission play, as well as insights into the perils of getting what we wish for. Author Philip Ridley is an award-winning storyteller, accomplished not only as a playwright, but also as a screenwriter and novelist. He’s channeled the Grimm Brothers with a fable of our modern day need to have more with this sparkling play, filled with incredible sections of dialogue that will take your breath away. Not giving anything away, but there is a section of the play where the two leads, Ollie and Jill, reveal what happened at their “garden party from hell.” It’s a tour-de-force of acting talent and trust as the two actors play ALL NINE of the invited guests as well as themselves in a rapidly devolving situation that becomes awful in a perfectly delightful way. These fifteen minutes are unforgettable, and worth the price of admission, but this subversive, thought-provoking play about the perils of climbing the social ladder and the price that is paid to acquire a “dream home” offers far more than that.
The couple at the center of the play are also the narrators of it. This is a confessional of sorts, with a lovely - you’d like them, you really would - young couple who hope that by telling us the logical progression of the awful choices they made to acquire their unaffordable dream house, that those choices will make sense. Perhaps we the audience, given the same options, would have made similar choices. It’s less a plea for absolution than an asking permission to continue on their greedy, subversive path – but they are such nice people, really, and doing it all for their beloved son. Playing this brand of black humor that makes us laugh and also shines a light on the darker aspects of humanity and questions the makeup of souls requires impeccable actors to keep the audience engaged. They got them. Rarely have I been more impressed with a cast. Their ability to flip from narrative form to mime to believable heart-wrenching emotion while remaining funny and endearing is remarkable. As an ensemble, their trust in each other as they play off each other while delivering rapid-fire dialogue is a delight.
Jake Buchanan as Ollie has an affable, aw-shucks smile and an easy, engaging presence onstage. His main goal is to keep his wife happy and safe, and he does so even if he has misgivings about the path they’ve embarked upon. Buchanan has good comic timing and a wonderful stage presence. He’s masterful with his physical comedy and mime. Buchanan is able to tread the tightrope of nice-person-doing-terrible-things with just enough of a wince for us to see how terribly conflicted he is. The role requires an immense outlay of energy and Buchanan seems to have vast reservoirs at his disposal. It’s is easy to see why he is an often-cast actor on Dallas stages.
Astonishingly, this is Kristen Lazarchick’s professional debut. A recent graduate of SMU where she received a BFA in theatre, she is a star on the rise. Her performance of Jill, a well-brought-up, expecting mom and wife is spot-on. Her ability to go shrill at exactly the right moment as her need for beautiful things overpowers her better nature goads much of the action forward in this play, yet she retains a sweetness that keeps the play palatable, and irrevocably draws us in. Lazarchick also has fantastic comedic timing and is adroit in her shifts from one character to another. Her yearning for the nicer things in life is grounded in a solid reality that makes you want to keep liking her, long after she has crossed the line of decency.
Kateri Cale is the third member of this robust team of exceptional actors. This delightful actress who is a gifted comedienne subversively manipulates Ollie and Jill into making a deal in one of her two roles, Miss Dee; in the other role of Kay, she plumbs the depths of what it means to have made a wrong choice in life with deep compassion. It is during her moments as Kay that the play reaches its bottom notes and resonates with the audience. The two characters are polar opposites of one another, and Cale is enthralling in both roles.
Kudos to Tim Johnson for his precise direction which serves this play exceptionally well. It’s a show that could easily go off the rails, but he has risen to this challenge and triumphed. His actors have no furniture to work with, and very few props. His director choice for the actors to mime everything from riding in cars to climbing stairs to battling intruders to serving up innumerable drinks at the dreaded garden party from hell make this play fly. Johnson has constrained his actors from tipping into caricature – they are always relatable. One can see that he is well-versed in Brechtian representational theatre and has a profound understanding of humans – especially when they are at their very worst. His staging of this play, and in particular the exceptional clarity of direction which was needed to clearly convey 11 memorable characters being played by only two actors gives us the audience a night of theatre to remember.
The cast is supported by outstanding technical design. The stark white set by Clare Floyd DeVries is beautiful in its simplicity. The “dream house” so yearned for by Ollie and Jill is given a canvass by her raised-platform set that becomes both the interior and the exterior of the dream house. Her placement of five tiny houses on the edge of the stage, replete with little picket fences highlights the show’s theme perfectly. Lighting design by Adam Chamberlin is exceptional. His underlighting of both the raised platform of the performance area as well as the tiny houses gave an interesting look to the show. Shifting intensity of the stage lighting became almost like a fourth character in this play as it revealed what was going on inside the character’s minds. Beautifully timed color changes backdropped important soul changes in the play. Props by Matthew Duvall, while few, were perfectly chosen.
Costume design by Melissa Panzarello captured the essence of this young couple. The choice of pretty pastels for both Ollie and Jill provided a perfect counterpoint to their slow descent. Miss Dee’s outrageous red and black outfit (and perfectly painted red nails) was spot on, as was Kay’s dirty layers of clothing. Sound design by John M. Flores set the mood as the audience entered the comfortable, intimate theatre. His pick of Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes” as the opening song perfectly set up this excellent piece of theatre that delighted for every single minute of its run time. And yes, you will understand what the title means after you see the play. This is one show not to miss!
Performances: Oct. 4-28th: Thursday thru Saturday evenings at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm.
Trinity River Arts Center at 2600 N. Stemmons Fwy #180, Dallas 75215
For tickets: Call the box office at 214-953-1055 or online at kitchendogtheater.org
Please note: This play contains adult language.