Friday, May 13, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: American Psycho

Benjamin Walker and the cast. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

The Ink Blots Aren’t What You Think They Are in This Psychological Thriller
By Lauren Yarger
Duncan Sheik’s new Broadway musical American Psycho is sort of a two-hour, 45 minute Rorschach test that you fail. No matter what you think you might be seeing in front of you, reality turns out to be something else.

Take the opening number with the electrifying pulses of the composer’s score set against Es Devlin’s mind-stimulating, metallic-grey set, lightning-strobed with expertise by Lighting Designer Justin Townsend while cast members forebodingly sing  “Uh, oh” while stomping out Choreographer Lynne Page’s dynamic dance steps. I sat back and thought, Wow! Director Rupert Goold has put something together here that might give traditional Broadway musicals a lobotomy even more so than Spring Awakening, Sheik’s musical that changed the personality of musicals forever.

Pretty quickly, however, the musical sinks into a flat line where, thanks to the book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, we’re never really sure why anything is happening -- especially why we need to see the star in his underwear a lot --  or for whom we are supposed to be rooting. We find ourselves longing for our brain waves to be stimulated again by music like the opening number. (Sheik also supplies the lyrics and orchestrates). A number of the musical numbers build to sudden, loud crescendo finishes, but seem over done given the preceding melody.

It’s kind of like seeing a dazzling image of a blood-dripping challenge (thanks to costumes by Katrina Lindsay and Wig and Hair Design by Campbell Young Associates) to blockbuster Hamilton’s stronghold on the Tony Awards this season only to discover that we’re looking instead at an ordinary ink blot.

I was not familiar with Ellis’ novel or on the movie (starring Christian Bale) which has a large cult following and probably led to the thought that such a story could be a Broadway musical, so I can’t tell you how it holds up on comparison.

This version of the psychological thriller features Benjamin Walker (who delighted in Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson) as Patrick Bateman, an investment banker who enjoys wealth and an active social life, but who in secret, is a serial murderer.

His fiancée, Evelyn Williams (Helene Yorke), is oblivious as the couple attends countless, boring events with friends and co-workers like Patrick’s brother, Sean (Jason Hite), David Van Patten (Dave Thomas Brown ), Timothy Price (Theo Stockman), closeted homosexual Luis Carruthers (Jordan Dean) and rival Paul Owen (Drew Moerlein), who is always one step ahead, it seems, even when it comes to designing a business card (there is a humorous song devoted to this called, well, “Cards.”)

Patrick’s meek secretary, Jean (Jennifer Damiano), has feelings for Patrick (though why, we’re not sure, since he treats her pretty rudely). He criticizes what she wears, sends her on menial errands and she grows ever fonder as our worst fears come true – Damiano and vocal powerhouse Alice Ripley, who plays a few characters including Patrick’s mother, are not going to sing anything that even begins to challenge their vocal talents. 

The two dynamic voices last appeared on Broadway together in Next to Normal – probably the first musical to deal with mental illness, but in a way that might be familiar to us in dealing with loved ones who are bi-polar or depressed. As for Psycho, sorry, I don’t know anyone who is killing people and animals with knives, chain saws and axes or having sexual orgies because the killing excites them (one scene is particularly vulgar with sexual images flooding the stage – video Design by Finn Ross). Or at least I hope I don’t.

And that seems to be the take-away from this story – that we don’t really know anyone very well, that everyone has a dark side. And in a puzzling twist, we’re not sure whether anything is really happening or just the quiet desperation in someone’s mind. I think I determined that I am sane by not caring. I went as far as being disappointed, however, by feeling that what might have been an intriguing thriller wasn’t developed fully enough here.  That especially goes for the female characters who seem to be afterthoughts, including Courtney Lawrence (Morgan Weed), Luis’ fiancé having an affair with Patrick , or just there for the taking or killing…. Alex Michael Stoll gets a fun few seconds as Patrick’s apartment neighbor Tom Cruise, however.

The band is housed in the house boxes either side of the stage and plays some pop hits from the 1980s which factor into the story. The transition is distracting. Music Direction is by Jason Hart; Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements are by David Shrubsole.

American Psycho bloodies up the stage at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W 45th St., NYC through Sept. 25. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 pm. Tickets are $ 69-$148: 212- 239-6200; americanpsychothemusical.com.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- MATURE**
-- Mature dialogue
-- Language
-- Sexual activity
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Homosexuality
-- Homosexual activity
-- Scantily-clad actors
-- Sexual images

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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