Che in EVITA says of Argentina’s First Lady Eva Peron, “A shame you did it all at 26.”
And here’s Patrick Bateman, who’s 26 as well and has almost done it all. If he’s not quite in Mrs. Peron’s league, he nevertheless has a high- powered Wall Street job and a mammoth income that allows him to drop hundreds of dollars on a meal and thousands on a suit. Sherman McCoy in THE BONFIRES OF THE VANITIES had to wait to be 32 before he felt he was a genuine Master of the Universe; the six-years-younger Patrick already feels he’s there.
We do suspect something’s wrong with Patrick when the clerk at a video rental store (yes, we’re in the ‘80s) notes that this is the 37th time that he’s rented NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. By the time Patrick contemptuously says to us “I’m not a common man. I’m not like you” we realize that’s a good thing. For Patrick is mentally ill — an AMERICAN PYSCHO, as his musical at the Schoenfeld is called.
Now that Patrick’s reached his level of achievement and is where he professionally expected to be, what’s left? Sure, he and fellow executives enjoy the office sport of counting the number of homeless people they spotted on their way to work. (The one who’s seen the most wins!) Despite all this “fun,” Patrick says that he still has “a nameless feeling.” What exactly is it?
The need to kill, in fact. Patrick’s sense of entitlement from getting everything he’s ever wanted very early in life helps him to feel that he’s not doing anything particularly wrong. Hey, he’s Patrick Bateman, after all.
He doesn’t care if the audience likes him or not; that he has its attention is enough. So Patrick continually tells us his gruesome plans, shows us his horrible murders and zealously brags about his “accomplishments.” He’s not much less honest to his friends, lovers, associates and people he’s just met, for he often flat-out tells them “I’m insane.”
Everyone responds with a laugh, for we’ve bandied about the word “insane” so freely to describe mere eccentricity that it’s lost its literal meaning. Patrick’s ostensible girlfriend Evelyn (the fine Helene Yorke) and would-be amour Victoria (the equally good Anna Eilinsfeld) only half-listen to him, anyway, and are incapable of reading between the lines. Lines to them simply mean cocaine.
Perhaps criticizing anyone for not seeing through Patrick isn’t fair, for our anti-hero also puts on a semi-happy face when ‘fessing up to them. If they assume that he’s joshing when he talks murder, hey, don’t blame him, for he blatantly stated what he’s been up to. When he tells one woman that he works in “murders and executions,” she assumes he’s being funny and actually means “mergers and acquisitions.” People have become so inured to black humor that when Patrick says he’s going out to kill tonight, they laugh because they KNOW that he’s kidding.
Librettist Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa — following the lead of screenplay-writers Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner and, of course, AMERICAN PSYCHO novelist Bret Easton Ellis who started it all — has made every important person in Patrick’s life as shallow as a curbside puddle after a brief shower. Director Rupert Goold has his actresses archly to look at the world through uninvolved half-closed eyes while they toss their heads back — all to show off those $300 haircuts, m’dear. When they talk, they drone their statements in monotone so they can show how bored they are – for if you’re not bored, then you’re not sophisticated, and then where will you be?
Of course they have to look the part, too, so Katrina Lindsay has delivered what may be the most thorough and detailed costume plot since that musical about Coco Chanel. She’s mostly opted for red and black, resulting in more here than is mentioned in LES MISERABLES.
(That musical incidentally, is cited quite a few times, for we’re in the era when this was Broadway’s hottest ticket – which is possibly the only reason why Patrick wants to see the damn thing).
The men in the ensemble also act robotically, snapping their heads forward and moving as if they’re in a Claymation feature. Goold’s turning them into mere poseurs who are devoid of human feelings is a wise choice; it distances us from reality and makes the gruesome murders seem artificial and synthetic. Having insipid characters keeps us from caring about them or mourning them when they become corpses.
If this musical were done with realistic scenery instead of Es Devlin’s all-white shadow box on which we see Finn Ross’ imaginative projections, the show would be hard to stomach. Instead, AMERICAN PSYCHO first and foremost fascinates in its removed way. The only character who has any depth is Jane, Patrick’s secretary. Even here, Jennifer Damiano is most called upon to play confusion, which she does very well.
Aguirre-Sacasa wisely included a moment from Ellis’ book that wasn’t in the film: Patrick has great admiration for serial killers, whom he can name with the rapidity of a baseball fan who can name his favorite team’s starting lineup. But our bookwriter has made a few mistakes. He has Patrick ask “What do I have?” as well as “I wish to fit in” and “I hate my job.” In the loved-or-loathed film, he’s quite happy with his occupation and of course position; he’s just seen it all and is looking for new thrills, that’s all.
Another Aguirre-Sacasa boner involves Patrick’s confessing his crimes to a detective – who also assumes he’s kidding. Oh, no, he wouldn’t. Detectives on a serial murder case don’t have much of a sense of humor; they take every scrap of dialogue as a potential clue if not an indictment. In the film, Patrick admits what he’s been doing to his lawyer, who has a very different reaction, lawyers being what they are.
The star of BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON is now playing Bloody Bloody Patrick Bateman. Benjamin Walker is indefatigable in staying on stage for virtually all of this two-and-a-half hour endurance test. While revealing Patrick’s calculated nature, he’s as icy as Antarctica on its coldest day. Watch him when he tells others of his concern over apartheid, Central American crises and affordable health care. We see he’s learned The Important Issues of the Day, but his feelings for them are as strong as his love for multiplication tables. When he has sex, he performs with all the emotion of an efficient Roto-Rooter drain-cleaning machine.
Walker does show that Patrick has a semblance of a heart beneath his (often displayed) buff chest. One woman who actually says “I love you” touches him in a way he didn’t see coming. But that’s the extent of his vulnerability. Usually he’s emotion-free when spitting out Aguirre-Sacasa’s dialogue and Duncan Sheik’s songs. He’s excellent at maneuvering his way around Sheik’s music, which has the perfect ‘80s techno-pop sound.
Be forewarned, you traditionalists who like to come out of a show humming the tunes (if there are any such people left). You’ll find AMERICAN PSYCHO the nadir of your musical-theatergoing experience. If you haven’t been able to enjoy the compositions of Sondheim, LaChiusa or Ricky Gordon, you’ll think their music Richard Rodgers-like compared to what Sheik has delivered.
As for lyrics, wordsmiths have long rhymed “remember” with “September” or “November.” Here Sheik joins it with “dismember,” which isn’t quite a rhyme. Sheik probably doesn’t notice or care. He set Steven Sater’s often false-rhymed lyrics to SPRING AWAKENING and both nevertheless got Tonys for what they’d wrought.
And yet, some old-world musical theater conventions are here, such as the practice of having characters burst into song when they’re excited. But in AMERICAN PSYCHO, that means a ditty in which the executives compare the quality of paper and print on their business cards the way teen boys compare the size of their penises.
Usually, though, AMERICAN PSYCHO doesn’t resemble any other musical, mostly because it doesn’t want to, While some shows have been said to “move like the wind,” Goold has this one roar across the stage like a tsunami. Many songs don’t conclude as much as they simply stop. After almost every one that abruptly concludes, a long second passes before the audience members realize “Oh! That song’s over! It’s time to applaud.”
They certainly don’t begrudge applause to Walker or anything else. Lynne Page’s choreography has most everyone bring a partner to the dance floor and then wind up boogying solo with no connection to anyone.
Although this is one show that’ll be tough to fill on Wednesday matinees, it proves that you don’t have to be HAMILTON to be atypical. AMERICAN PYSCHO takes us into such a post-post-modern musical theater world that it may already be even be post-future. Because the show is so long, many will eventually lose patience with Patrick’s one-track black mind and others will ultimately find him silly. As it is, the show seems to be painting itself into a bloody corner – until it offers a clever way out of the mess Patrick has created (which also explains why the police never catch up with him).
Near the end comes a scene that – believe it or not — resembles one you’ve experienced in THE SOUND OF MUSIC and OKLAHOMA! But aside from that one brief shining moment, AMERICAN PSYCHO is something to experience rather than enjoy. But one must admit that this is probably the best possible adaptation of AMERICAN PSYCHO that anyone could possibly create.