Synopsis of Toy Room
By Dr. David Conant Norville
As a psychiatrist, I have been asking children and adults to share their memories for over 25 years. Toy Room is Sally Tomato’s expressive reflection on her personal life experiences and choices presented as a bold and creative rock opera. The emotion, honesty, and humor of Toy Room is fresh, engaging, accessible to all, yet psychodynamically complex. Having experienced the rock opera, viewed the video, as well as listening to the sound track for more than 20 times, I am struck by the fact that I seem to learn something new with each visit to the Toy Room.
Sally is the youngest of a large family, “the forgotten child.” She is “loved and cared for”, but not given much direction. As a shy child, she experiences confidence and happiness in the Toy Room where she is free to express herself and create her own imaginary world “with her own explanation for what she observes.” She describes herself as being “by myself but never alone.” She has a chance to try on different characters during her play. One of her favorite characters is “a little girl who has a perfect home life but who is decidedly and secretly evil.”
Life is good until the onset of puberty, as signaled by her final chance to have a new doll for Christmas. Sally receives pressure to pick the beautiful and glamorous doll her mother would want, but she spies a lonely doll in a dusty box in the corner of the store. This doll has big eyes and a frozen tear, emblematic of Sally’s future life.
Sally’s shyness and naivety during her adolescence sets her up to become a follower and an outsider as she tries to fit in. No longer can she literally escape to the Toy Room for solace. She is victimized by the first guy that she cares about but is unable to talk to others. Her solution to this dilemma is to retreat to the “Toy Room” in her mind, again, a place where she is safe and is in control.
Into adulthood, Sally idealizes a young man who saves her from her adolescent experience and then she marries him. Soon her fantasy of an ideal marriage is dashed and she finds herself trapped, depressed and in her “personal nightmare” with an alcoholic husband. Even when the couple is able to move out of the trailer park and buy a middleclass home, Sally seems unhappy. She plays the role of a dutiful wife, all the time wishing that she was free. She seems to cope by “walking on air”, a reference to a mental escape to the fantasies she previously enjoyed in The Toy Room. After several years of psychotherapy she develops the courage and makes the decision to divorce and start a new chapter in her life.
Sally moves to “The Big City”, finds a new set of friends and enters the exciting and frenetic singles nightlife. Unfortunately, this life does not make Sally happy so she goes on long drives in the country. During one of these trips she runs off the road and is injured. The delirium caused by head injury puts Sally into a dreamlike fight for survival and life’s meaning. The inner child from The Toy Room urges her to recover and find new meaning in life. Sally eventually recovers to write and share her story with all of us.
While the story is compelling and honest, the presentation is genius. The group has created rock opera with rich and meaningful lyrics, supported by a creative and innovative musical score. The play and video adds a visual experience component of dance, costume and drama. The Toy Room is a constantly moving and engaging work of art. Humor and sadness, irony and reconciliation keep the audience’s attention while the eclectic musical score pulls it all together and gives the production its underlying emotional context. Sally’s vocals and Carlos’ instrumentals blend in a perfect marriage to create a production with staying power. Every time I listen to the sound track I discover new symbolism in the music and lyrics. I feel as if I am receiving little gifts from Sally and Carlos.
The Toy Room is a tribute to the creative need to tell one’s own story. On a shoe-string budget and fuelled by passion, many friends, and volunteer commitment, the rock opera was presented to great reviews in Portland, Oregon, and the movie will soon be out on DVD. Toy Room is suitable and understandable to children from age 12 to 102 but really appeals to the most adult traits in all of us, wanting to care for and nurture our “inner child”.