Director Alexander Berlage puts a high polish on just about everything he makes for a theatre.
So who better to helm the story of investment banker Patrick Bateman, a man for whom the reflected image is everything and for whom all that glistens is all that matters?
Adapted by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Duncan Sheik, you may be relieved to hear that this musical version displays little of the squirm-inducing edge of Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel. Absent also is the goriness that made Mary Harron’s (2000) film such a queasy experience.
What this American Psycho offers instead is a vividly entertaining satirical portrait of the Greed is Good era and of a man thrill-seeking the most visceral forms of reality in a world drained of meaning.
Berlage and designer Isabel Hudson stage American Psycho on a mirror-coated revolve, which takes up most of the available space and creates the impression that Bateman (played by Ben Gerrard) is marching through an endless loop of shop window displays.
His world is a ceaseless merry-go-round of power lunches, aerobics classes, cocaine binges and weekends in the Hamptons. Extreme violence is the only way he can, so to speak, get off.
Gerrard is ideally cast as Bateman and not just for his chiselled body, unwrinkled face and gleaming smile. His way of draining Bateman’s eyes of feeling and his precisely calibrated descent into narrative unreliability are essential to the success of the production.
Aguirre-Sacasa asks us to sympathise with Bateman to an extent (a victim of late capitalism, no less) and to Gerrard’s credit, we almost do.
Blake Appelqvist is wickedly funny as Bateman’s bete noire Paul Owen, a man who had everything Bateman desires. A sequence devoted to the display of his new business card is priceless.
Female roles are two-dimensional but Shannon Dooley (Batemen’s society belle fiancé Evelyn), Erin Clare (casual lover Courtney) and Loren Hunter (smitten PA Jean) perform strongly. Eric James Gravolin, Julian Kuo, Liam Nunan and Daniel Raso serve capably as the story’s cadre of interchangeable Wall Street jocks. Nunan’s name role – that of the closeted, Bateman-obsessed Luis – is a clumsy one but he performs it sharply.
Berlage (with associate director Danielle Maas, choreographer Yvette Lee and costume designer Mason Browne) has almost every revolution of the set reveal something surprising, funny or unsettling. Stillness, when it comes, has considerable impact.
The production’s sound design (Nick Walker) is in tune with the hard, bright surfaces of the design. Musical director Andrew Worboys’ arrangements of Sheik’s urbane electro-pop originals (think Pet Shop Boys) and 80s chart hits including Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Don’t You Want Me and In the Air Tonight make the room throb. The mix is full and nightclub loud at times.
American Psycho’s critique of consumerism and commodification might seem a bit old hat in this era of Internet-enabled sociopaths but this production’s sharp edges and slashing wit still leave a lasting impression.
This review of American Psycho’s first season was first published in 2019.