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On Broadway, ‘American Psycho’ Is a Little Too Sane


It’s a pretty apt moment for the resurrection of Patrick Bateman: avatar of Reagan-era American arrogance and Eighties Wall Street excess, avid Donald Trump fan, and (debatably) dabbler in serial killing. The antihero of Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel — an acidic satire on American capitalism — would probably feel entirely at home in today’s New York.

What’s less clear is whether he belongs on Broadway: at least, in the musical version of American Psycho written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, with songs by Duncan Sheik, and directed by Rupert Goold. (The production premiered in London in 2013.) In one way, the project makes sense: Musicals, like Wall Street, revel in glut and alternate realities. But despite copious blood, the production is oddly sanitized; it comes off as less an effort to bring the Eighties closer than an attempt to push their horrors — still largely with us — farther away.

Ellis’s free-associative plot (condensed in similar ways by the excellent 2000 film, starring Christian Bale, and the musical) follows the descent into madness of mergers-and-acquisitions whiz Bateman (Benjamin Walker), who juggles relationships with his materialistic fiancée and demanding mistress while enjoying the finer things in life: exclusive eateries, luxurious bath products, and his perfectly sculpted abs. He snorts coke in the bathroom at Tunnel and picks up prostitutes in the meatpacking district. (The story is, among many things, an ode to a certain kind of vanished Manhattan hellscape.)

But Patrick has one hobby his Wall Street cohort doesn’t share, and that’s murdering people. He’s obsessed with Ted Bundy and prone to killing women with chainsaws. (Or so we think: Part of American Psycho‘s acerbic charm is the persistent possibility that the violence is all in Patrick’s head.)

Aguirre-Sacasa captures the story with concise dialogue, and theatrical form allows for hilariously stagy choices. Walker plays the last several scenes clad only in blood-smeared white briefs, and there are numerous, satisfying splatters of gore on the clear plastic scrim.

But what’s missing is darkness and ambiguity. Both book and film use Patrick’s rampage as a metaphor for larger and ultimately more destructive kinds of violence: the AIDS crisis, which lurks at the edges of Ellis’s text; the widening chasm between rich and poor, registered in Patrick’s taunting of the homeless; even the forms of global violence that American capitalism perpetuates (in the film’s last scene, as Bateman confesses to his killing spree in a fancy restaurant, Reagan holds forth on television in the background).

Some of these elements make token appearances onstage, but the production is comparatively tame. Set designer Es Devlin’s chrome-and-plastic world makes you long for the film’s richer textures. Sheik’s songs blur together uneventfully, upstaged by renditions of period hits like “Don’t You Want Me.” And it’s hard to know why he and Aguirre-Sacasa decided to expand the role of Patrick’s slavishly devoted secretary with a series of soppy torch songs.

Above all, though, the production diminishes the sense that, even if Patrick’s murder spree is imaginary, his violent fantasies stand in for something real. In Sheik’s final musical number, Patrick declares that his story is “Not a fable/Not an allegory/No cautionary tale/Or memento mori.” Delivered in the polished tones of this Broadway production, such words are an invitation to forget: to walk away into the sunshine of a sanitized midtown still in thrall to the forces fueling Patrick Bateman’s serial slayings.

American Psycho
Directed by Rupert Goold
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street