The first play, Richard McBeef, is composed entirely of an argument between a teenage boy and the stepfather he despises, with interjections here and there from the boy’s mother. It’s profane in the most juvenile way, and violent in the extreme. The thing is only eight pages long (not counting the title and character/setting pages) and there are repeated accusations of pedophilia, rape and murder, and assaults via shoe, plate, wrench, pipe, chain-saw and cereal bar. The teenager spends almost the entire play hurling abuse at his stepfather, but Cho never tells us whether any of the awful stuff said about the stepfather is true, or if the kid is just a mouthy little bastard in need of a horse-whipping.
The second play takes place inside a casino as three high school friends play the slots and complain about their hated teacher, the titular Mr. Brownstone. The teacher, who appears only briefly near the end, is a darker, more deviant version of a Scooby Doo villain, accused by the kids of stalking, harsh grading practices, ridiculing one of them for not having telephone service, and ass-rape. Mr. Brownstone is never happier than when he is enjoying an act of involuntary anal intercourse, it seems. He finds the kids just before one of them hits a $5 million jackpot on the slots. Brownstone impersonates an elderly man by stooping over and speaking in “an old dry voice,” and is able to convince a casino official that the $5 million winnings are his, stolen from him by those meddlin’ kids. Brownstone gets the $5 million ticket and the kids get dragged out by security, cursing him all the way. Nearly three pages of the 9-page story consist of the three kids singing the Guns ‘N Roses song, “Mr. Brownstone.” It’s a tribute to what a truly shitty band they are that their lyrics actually bring the rest of the play down.
So the guy was a horrible writer. To most people, that’s not the point. Most people see the plays as a warning that should have been heeded. Cho was obviously a troubled kid — in addition to his depraved writing, he stalked female classmates and apparently once tried to set fire to his room — but hindsight is always 20/20 in a situation like this. Should people have done more to help Cho out with whatever bullshit he was dealing with? Probably, but even as fucked-up as he was, it’s not like his behavior was a bright red arrow pointing to “gun massacre,” for Christ’s sake. Now that he’s murdered 32 people and committed suicide, we look back and it all seems so obvious, but at the time there was no way to know things with Cho were going to turn as bad as they did.
The problem with this kind of second guessing is that the key incident is what happens after the person snaps, when they go off and kill everyone. You don’t recognize the warning signs until it’s too late, and even those warning signs are open to interpretation. It’s like a Nostradamus prophecy — as soon as something happens that seems to line up with one of those quatrains, the nut-jobs come out of the woodwork to explain how it’s obvious that he must have been talking about Hitler or 9/11 or the war in Iraq, but it’s all ex post facto subjective analysis, completely useless for predicting or preparing for the future. If Quentin Tarantino ever goes off the deep end and starts shooting motherfuckers, we’re all gonna slap ourselves in the forehead and say, “How the fuck did we not see this coming?” We will all turn in unison to Robert Rodriguez, to glare at him accusingly for not having warned us.
Fuck, I’ve written some pretty sick shit in my time, too. I wrote a short screenplay when I was 18 or 19 about a thinly veiled version of myself who stabs his little brother to death with a kitchen knife; if I ever embark on a campaign of bloody murder, I guarantee you someone will point to it as a cry for help that could have averted catastrophe if only someone had been listening. As long as I remain a well-adjusted, law-abiding citizen with relatively few homicidal tendencies, Sandwich and Fratricide will merely be the obscure output of an amateur writer, just like Cho Seung-Hui’s were before he loaded his guns and left his room early Monday morning.