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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Arts Theatre


  Alice Krige and Al Weaver/Ph: Robert Day

There's bad and then there's Toyer, an American two-hander that has come along just in the nick of time to remind us that even the most exciting London theater season imaginable - which this is - allows room for dross. In some ways, Toyer marks a throwback to the kind of play you don't find much anymore, its domain long ago displaced to the screens, large and small, as a programme quote comparing author Gardner McKay's achievement to The Silence of the Lambs might suggest. Not, I suspect,that Jodie Foster's production company will spend much time sniffing around this play's defining female role of Maude- by the time William Scoular's production has offered up its last (and in this case least) plot twist, you're left not so much savoring the sort of roller-coaster ride that pleasurably sets the pulse racing as you are pondering the deeply misogynist mindset that could think this thing up in the first place.

The play is set in a glossy LA home belonging to Maude (Alice Krige), a middle-aged psychiatrist whom we first encounter tearily reeling from the ravages of a local psychopath known as Toyer, whose nasty handiwork has led the professionally minded Maude to the verge of collapse. So you might think she's better off not allowing access into her upscale, moonlit abode from the younger, jittery, apparently gay Peter (Al Weaver), who has come in search of the flashlight that he used earlier that same evening when helping to fix Maude's car. Might Peter just perhaps be the very person who, we are told in gleefully vivid detail, has a penchant not for murdering his female victims but, in fact, disabling them via a kind of spinal lobotomy that appears to take scopophilia to a new extreme? (Yes, I, too, had no idea what scopophilia meant before seeing this play: who says the theater isn't an education .... ?)

And off we go on a folie a deux that quickly forsakes all logic in its faintly desperate need to arrive at a 21st-century equivalent to Shylock's immortal line in The Merchant of Venice: The villainy you teach me I will execute. In the case of Toyer, that means making of Maude a victim-turned-perpetrator, a narrative that along the way requires the gifted Krige to bare her top and then everything else on the way to becoming the depraved Peter's sexual plaything: a male fantasy that would be unappealing enough as it is if one didn't also get the impression that beneath this play's surface titillation lies an abiding hatred of the female form.

At least Krige, a onetime Royal Shakespeare Co. actress who had a brief flirtation with film stardom during the 1980s (King David, anyone?), reminds us that she is a fine and serious talent who with luck will quickly move on to happier assignments. Weaver was Ben Whishaw's alternate during his career-making Old Vic Hamlet for Trevor Nunn, a task whose own mental disarray surely represents a model of composure next to the tiresomely gabby, variably afflicted Peter - though I confess to laughing out loud to several of the jokes that author McKay gets off his chest at the expense of actors when Peter tried to persuade the irritatingly malleable Maude that he is yet another LA thesp playing out some elaborate scene study for her benefit. (Now tell me: How many actors have you met whose homework consists of entering a stranger's home and masturbating atop her furniture?)Elsewhere, one can only laugh at the pretensions of a script that stakes vague claims to social commentary - life as media circus, the inadequacy of the judicial system and so on - when all Toyer really wants to do is freak its audience out.

Well, sorry to say, I didn't buy it any more than I fell for the hard-working, essentially hapless Weaver's incre


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