Toyer: troubling play about a troubled man

photo courtesy of EMH Productions

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (special Halloween show Tuesday, October 31); $20. Ooley Theatre, 2007 28th Street; (916) 214-6255; Through October 31.
Rated 4.0

Character Peter Matson is either a professional actor trying out a new character or he’s a very real serial victimizer of women who, when he’s finished toying with them, lobotomizes them. Maude Christopher is either the actor’s latest audience of one or the monster’s next intended victim.

Maude is a psychiatrist who has interviewed the women left paralyzed by the man who has been dubbed the Toyer. One evening, at home in her secluded apartment off Mulholland Drive, she gets a knock at her door. It’s the young gay man(he says) who had helped her start her car earlier. He followed her (he says) to make sure she got home safely.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse in which roles seem to reverse and re-reverse in a brutal—perhaps unnecessarily so—drama that the audience seems to know the truth about but can’t easily guess the outcome of.

Paj Crank, who suggested the play to producer/director Elise Hodge, stars as Matson, and he has the charm and guile (and occasional psycho presence) to pull off the challenging character. Bethany Hidden takes Maude from friendly-but-wary hostess to wily adversary through a torrent of emotional moments.

Playwright Gardner McKay, an actor-turned-writer, knows how to create a strong character and to depict brutality that is both physical and emotional. Director Hodge has a firm grip on the drama, gives each actor room to explore the role (although Hidden may over-emote at times) and moves the action confidently about the small but effective set.