New York City Theater
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater
Like a Greek god, Patrick Bateman rises from below stage level, wearing nothing but tighty-whities, while, on TV, an optimistic President Ronald Reagan speaks. “There’s a race we’re running,” sings Bateman, as he nattily dresses. “I am desire, I am something other.” This is “American Psycho,” the stark, stylish satire of capitalism that is a perfect fit for the rise of a would-be president, Donald J. Trump. Same arrogance, same egocentricity, same misogyny.
Based on the notorious novel by Bret Easton Ellis, the new musical has a book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and a driving score by Duncan Sheik that also utilizes songs by Phil Collins, Huey Lewis and the like. Even the song titles are menacing: “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “You Are What You Wear,” “Killing Time,” “Killing Spree.”
Starring is the insinuating, seductive, striking Benjamin Walker as Bateman, a mergers and acquisitions guy so corrupted that he wants to literally murder those who don’t live up to his standards. So sick, so psychotic, so venomous is he that pleasure is a bore. ”I’m not a common man,” he sings, but the kicker is he’s common as anyone else in his profession, except that he carries out his fantasies. Or so it would seem.
He and his cohorts dwell on trivia: Who has the best-looking business card? Who can score a reservation at the toniest restaurant? Who can bed the most women? In the world of Wall Street, sex is as meaningless as martinis. Thanks to a stunningly fit, often undressed cast, hormones race through the theater like falling stocks.
Under Rupert Goold’s fierce direction, “American Psycho” is designed in perfect New York colors – black and white – plus touches of blood red. Es Devlin, whose sets for “Machinal” a few years back were incredible, here creates an environment as soulless as the show’s protagonist. Finn Ross’ assaultive projections, Justin Townsend’s merciless lighting, Dan Moses Schreier’s pounding sound design, Lynne Page’s restless choreography and Katrina Lindsay’s chic costumes combine for a look of wealth and power.
But (here comes the “but’), the evening spins its wheels and is, in the end, unconvincing, partly because of the story’s trickery. That it softens yet can’t quite make its characters, especially Bateman, sympathetic is one drawback, despite Walker’s charisma. Others in the cast – Alice Ripley, Heléne Yorke, Jennifer Damiano, Drew Moerlein and the ensemble – get somewhat lost.
Set in 1989, maybe its satire is too mild for our times, having been replaced by real fear, just as what some feel about Trump is no longer amusement. Maybe “American Psycho” is now more a memento mori and end-of-days tale, something the show doesn’t tackle despite its electricity. Going beyond satire into the realm of self-destruction, it simply isn’t funny any more.
--David A. Rosenberg
May 22, 2016