Psychological thriller author/playwright Gardner McKay has been hailed by almost every major newspaper as a "brilliantly chilling" writer. We haven't read his books, so we wouldn't know. If this adaptation of his novel Toyer—about a serial killer who doesn't kill his rape victims but instead severs their spinal cords after drugging them, leaving them in a permanent vegetative state—is an example of his storytelling (and it is), we wonder if all the major newspaper critics are, themselves, lobotomized.
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Except for the highly original concept of not actually killing his victims, Toyer is contrived to the extreme. Dr. Maude Christoper (Paulette Kendall), the psychologist who cares for Toyer's veggie gals, is supposed to be brilliant, yet she lets a stranger (Jeff Castle) into her home when she is alone merely because he's sweet and probably gay. When this stranger reveals himself to be the nutjob he is, he bats her around and then pretends he's just an actor from down the street working on a scene (he's toying with her, see). She calls him an asshole, enjoys a glass of vodka with him and later has sex with him because . . . uh, he's hot and the idea of being murdered turned her on? Helloooo? Besides the fact that no woman over 30 lets a stranger in her home (unless it's a 95-year-old woman bleeding out of her eyes), the minute this dickhead confessed that he was putting her on, all women would have bashed his goddamn brains in.
The point of Toyer, supposedly, is to admonish society: we read about rape every day and "then turn the page" without a single tear. While this recent election did prove that most Americans are insensitive assholes, puh-leez—what are we supposed to do about violence toward women? Besides teaching our daughters not to walk next to rape vans and all women being on constant alert to kick the living shit out of any guy who says, "Boo," there's little we can do about rape or serial killers. But we do care. We all care. We all think it's sick, so McKay's insipid accusation disintegrates. (There's also the point that this "killer" would only get two to six years in prison for his crimes; the Los Angeles DA's office says he would actually get much more.)
Why director Autumn Browne and the Vanguard Theatre Ensemble produced this play is a troubling mystery. Is it because it's going to be filmed by a major studio soon? Was it for shock value? Whatever the case, this material sheds no light on one of the most gruesome triads of our society: rape, murder and the media. And we really don't need to see a woman getting abused and manipulated live, do we? There's Hollywood and Paris Hilton's show for that.
TOYER AT THE VANGUARD THEATRE ENSEMBLE, 120-A W. WILSHIRE AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 526-8007. THURS.-FRI., 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. $20.