Psyched About American Psycho

Psyched About American Psycho

Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman. (Photo Jeremy Daniel)

How could I not see this play? In December of 1980, I got a job as an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone magazine, where, for the next six years I was the textbook definition of a young woman in the Greed is Good decade in New York City. Always surrounded by a coterie of other we-think-we-are-so-hip young adults, we danced at Danceteria, drank margaritas at Texarkana (both now defunct) and indulged in other assorted decadent behaviors that was simply of the age. In 1991 I read Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho,” and was equal parts horrified and enamored with the story of a handsome, wealthy, narcisstic Manhattanite (Patrick Bateman) who fantastizes obsessively about murdering his friends and lovers. He knows he is living as a kingpin in a radically self-involved universe (during one dinner party scene, Bateman starts ranting about all the world problems that need to be solved, from apartheid to terrorism, only to be looked at blankly by the other dinner guests), yet one he has bought into.

When the movie with Christian Bale came out in 2000, I had moved on and out of both the 1980s and Rolling Stone, but again, the movie flooded me with memories of the wicked wonderfulness of the era. And when I heard the musical adaptation of the novel was coming from London to Broadway, I grabbed another baby boomer friend and went to the show.

Benjamin Walker, an American actor and comic I was not familiar with, (Walker produces and hosts a monthly comedy variety show at Joe’s Pub) plays the lead role as Patrick Bateman. The opening scene, of the perfectly sculpted Bateman, standing onstage in his designer underwear and giving a tutorial to the audience on what clothes to wear and how best to groom, is both amusing and a touch uncomfortable: this is New York City, after all, where for many, buying the right Ferragamos and shopping at Barneys is an integral part of life. But in the 1980s, when the economy was flush, and, before the burst of the tech and real estate bubbles, young MBAs saw Wall Street as the wild, wild East, ready to be exploited for personal gain, and we all took designer labels, sushi and expensive bottles of chardonnay very seriously. As the play progresses, we get to meet Bateman’s posse, caricatures of 1980s excess, who are often hilarious—Patrick Bateman’s girlfriend (played with satirical precision by Heléne Yorke), furious that Bateman invited a friend at the last minute to her dinner party, making an uneven number of guests around the table shrieks, “this isn’t Hoboken!" But there is also horror, as we see Bateman’s fantasies of murder play out in grim power plays: on a backstreet in New York, during an orgy, entertaining a friend for cocktails. The cast, all gorgeous and with the appropriate bodies built by Fisher, do a terrific job in dance sequences, which are at times a straightforward replay of a night of New Wave music at the Tunnel circa 1989, but at other times disintegrate into strange, robotic-like episodes.

The set designs and lighting are breathtaking; moving circular floors act as a backdrop to key scenes, where the vacuous friends in Bateman’s world stand frozn, revolving around the stage, posed at dance clubs and dinner parties as grotesque mannequins. In apartment and office scenes, stark, sleek and sophisticated furniture that looks chic but uncomfortable and uninviting is another way to underscore the sensibility of Bateman & Co. 

Afterwards, walking out and trading memories of the era with my friend, both good and bad, were a treat. And the cast of  “American Psycho” propelled me back in a most authentic way. But you need not be on a nostalgia ride to enjoy this energetic, at times frightening, and altogether powerful night at the theater.

» American Psycho, Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St., 212.239.6200