Story: Maude has returned home after an exhausting day. She’s a psychiatrist by trade, a single woman who has recently broken up with her boyfriend and now living alone again. Shortly after she arrives home, she’s interrupted by a friendly young man named Peter. He tells her that he’s noticed that her car is having some trouble, but that he can fix it for her, since he’s a bit of a mechanic.
Somehow, Peter talks his way into Maude’s apartment and they begin to discuss a major local news story. An intruder known as the “Toyer” has struck again, seducing a beautiful young woman before injecting a drug that causes catatonia.
Maude is understandably horrified at this rash of tragic assaults, but Peter believes that the ‘Toyer’ is getting a bad rap. After all, he says, he hasn’t killed or raped anyone, since the women were willingly seduced. How does he know that, though, and why has he insinuated himself into Maude’s life?
Highlights: This brief, two-act, two-character play has also been published as a novel by its author, Gardner McKay. The 1999 work merited enough attention to be performed by Kathleen Turner and Brad Davis in a production directed by Tony Richardson. It’s currently being staged in a presentation by the fledgling Encore! Theater Group, which opened its inaugural season a couple of months ago with a solid rendition of Red, an award-winning drama about artist Mark Rothko.
Other Info: Encore!’s presentation takes place in an anteroom off the bar at the blandly if accurately named St. Louis Italian Restaurant and Pizza Co. just north of the Missouri History Museum. Two newcomers to the St. Louis acting scene, Leslie-Ann Fletcher and Dana Gaubatz, are the stars of this erratic and problematic production that is directed by Kamara Miller.
The problems are not entirely the responsibility of the cast and crew. McKay’s prose often sounds contrived and frequently doesn’t seem to make sense. A major setback, though, is the fact that there are just two characters, and they’re talking about a serial stalker. Hmmm, I wonder who the next victim and the perpetrator might be?
McKay works around that major question relatively early in his script. Even with some revelations, however, it’s fairly easy to figure out where this is going, a major stumbling block for a so-called thriller. Additionally, one would expect a psychiatrist to be a bit more on top of the game than often is the case with Maude.
Performances by Fletcher and Gaubatz vary in quality from perfunctory to decent, but the careening aspects of the script, combined with the funky performance venue, only hinder any chance at momentum for either of the players. They’re not helped by Miller’s spasmodic or hesitant pacing that only serves to allow time for an audience to detect various flaws.
Producer Effrem Grettenberger’s technical and lighting design provides a suitable set that features Maude’s living room and an adjacent bar, with her bedroom off-stage in the back beyond a curtain. Meredith LaBounty adds costumes and make-up design, but everyone battles the ongoing bar noise just beyond the balky doors to the performance area, which definitely are not sound-proof.
Toyer has its moments and this production by Encore! Theater Group demonstrates at times that its two players can do respectable work. There just aren’t enough of those times to adequately suspend disbelief.
Company: Encore! Theater Group
Venue: St. Louis Italian Restaurant and Pizza Co., 310 DeBaliviere
Dates: October 24, 25, 26
Tickets: $15; contact 329-8998 or email@example.com
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.