Melvin Ferd III is something of a nebbish, as if his name wasn’t clue enough. He’s harassed and attacked by bullies. His mother does nothing but criticize. Even his best friend, a blind girl named Sarah who works at the library in dystopian Tromaville, New Jersey, isn’t interested in him romantically. When he confronts Mayor Babs Belgoody with dumping toxic waste, she sics her goons, who drop him in a barrel of green, gooey toxic waste and leave him for dead. And thus is born: The Toxic Avenger, the morally ambiguous and perhaps ugliest antihero since The Incredible Hulk or The Thing.
Ironically, Melvin’s transfiguration enables him to win Sarah’s heart, when he saves her from rape and perhaps even death. He can easily defend himself and wreak revenge on those who made him miserable, his ghastly reaction to the chemical poison soup is all to the good. The only downside is, he’s beyond repugnant. He roars like a dinosaur. He would scare a javelina. But he’s also able to pursue the villains with aplomb, and Sarah is smitten with him. However, Sarah keeps insisting on feeling “Toxie’s” face, and Mayor Babs has discovered his one “kryptonite,” so there’s certainly no guarantee of a happy ending.
Created by Joe DiPietro (Book and Lyrics) and David Bryan (Music and Lyrics) and inspired by a Marvel comic book hero, The Toxic Avenger Musical is a marvelously perverse, crass and vile comedy that is very clever and hilariously cynical. You could suggest that certain comic book heroes experience a triggering event that unleashes their shadow side (id) say, like Bruce Wayne becoming Batman, but even The Dark Knight has a code of honor. When Melvin turns into The Toxic Avenger he revels in tearing off limbs and decapitating those who annoy him. He even plays the drums with a couple of disarticulated arms. None of the characters are especially noble (Sarah’s OK) but it’s clear that Melvin’s advantage comes when he embraces his basest instincts. When Melvin’s mother sings to convince Sarah to reconcile with “Toxie” she explains that (in one way or another) “All Men Are Freaks.” The other women eagerly agree.
Along about 1975-1976 the premiere of Saturday Night Live convinced a lot of people that humor and tastelessness were not mutually exclusive. Of course this has always been true. If you know what you’re doing, and you’re talented, you can make your own rules. The problem with this “revelation” was that suddenly everyone thought they could pull it off, competent or not. So we subsequently wound up with a lot of wretched “comedies” that would make Charles Manson seem like a laugh-riot.
The difference is that DiPietro and Bryan are brilliant and they know how to create an organic, buoyant narrative, consistent in demeanor. What they have accomplished is not at all easy (and with the help of Toxic’s phenomenal, frantic, acrobatic cast) have managed a spoof rich in subtext and audacity. The Toxic Avenger Musical lolls in its excessive degeneracy. It’s so, so, so bad and deranged and wrong, wrong, deliciously wrong. And it’s funny as hell. Closing weekend guys, hurry over.
Uptown Players present The Toxic Avenger Musical closing this Sunday, September 11th, 2016. Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Boulevard, Dallas, Texas 75219. 214-219-2718. uptownplayers.org