Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Jeanie's review of Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
American Psycho is based on the controversial 1991 novel by Brett Easton Ellis, and was adapted by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening, Carson McCullers Talks About Love), who wrote most of the music and lyrics, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (best known for his work on "Glee," "Riverdale," and as Chief Creative Officer for Archie Comics), who penned the book. The story takes place in the go-go world of late 1980s New York decadence, fueled by the megabucks captured by investment banks. Bateman (played with delicious, almost endearing menace by Kipp Glass) works at one of them, the fictional Pierce & Pierce (the same fictional establishment in Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities"), where he handles "murders and executions," er, mergers and acquisitions. He is so wrapped up in himself (a self-confessed solipsist), his workout routine, skin care regimen, designer clothes, Walkman (this is 1989, after all), and dinner reservations at Manhattan hot spots, that the needs and desires of others aren't even blips on his radar. Bateman sees himself as something unique, something greater than, notas he sings"a common man." He feels no constraints on his behavior, "no interest in right or wrong," only desire: for wealth, status, sexand murder.
For Bateman, when he's not arranging leveraged buyouts, slashes his way through Manhattan, dispatching first the homeless and hookers, before moving on to club kids and co-workers in a spree that would make Ted Bundy (one of Bateman's idols) shrivel in envy. Bateman wants it alland seems to have itbut is so shallow that his pride is deeply wounded by the most minor of trivialities: the discovery that his Pierce & Pierce colleague Paul Owen (Kyle Ewalt) can not only secure a reservation at Dorsia, the restaurant of the moment, but also has a better business card than Patrick.
If all this sounds a little dark and disturbing, it is. But the darkness is alleviated by a marvelous score that includes music not only by Duncan Sheik, but versions of some of the biggest hits of the '80s ("Everybody Wants to Rule the World," "True Faith," "Don't You Want Me," and "In the Air Tonight"), which gain new resonance when juxtaposed against Bateman's deadly diversions. The version of "In the Air Tonight" is especially haunting, opening up the song's macabre lyrics ("If you told me you were drowning I would not lend a hand") and adding new dimension to them.
The darkness of the story is also lightened by an intense performance by Kipp Glass, who clearly has been keeping to his own fitness regime. He puts his rock-hard abs, substantial pecs, and powerful legs to appropriate use as he struts about the stage (often in no more than a pair of tighty-whities) with the assurance that his Bateman is "not like you." He embodies a sense of entitlement and white male privilege, and wields it with such casual ease that we tend to forget it is both unearned and undeserved. The way he off-handedly instructs his secretary on how to dress reveals the pervasive nature of sexismwhile simultaneously reminding us that its pervasiveness is exactly why it's so hard to overcome.
Glass is well-supported by the rest of the cast, with exceptional work being done by Kyle Ewalt as Bateman's nemesis Paul Owen, and Danielle Altizio as his girlfriend Evelyn. Ewalt exhibits a goofy uber-nerd quality that is impossible to resist, and Altizio is so subtle and restrained in her performance that it would be easy to miss her brilliancebut it's all in service of the role, and like a lantern illuminating an unlit corner, she deserves praise for a performance that helps reveal the dark and shallow nature of the world she inhabits.
Director Jason Hoover and choreographer Leslie Waggoner move their cast through Angrette McCloskey's marvelously minimal set with elegant ease. The dance moves are appropriately '80s, and there is a group sex scene where the partners' simulations involve virtually no touching, reinforcing the chilly, emotionally disconnected nature of casual hookups.
"The truth is," Patrick intones near the end of American Psycho, "I never wanted to make anyone happy. Not even myself," summing up the isolation and psychosis that drive his desires. Patrick Bateman lives his life as a big middle finger to the world. But the saddest part of that is not his anger, but the fact that no one seems to take note of all he does to prove to himself that he is something extraordinary when, as it turns out, he may be the most common of common men, toiling away at a job he hates and finding that nothing in life satisfies him. As Adele once sang, "Sure, she's got it all. But, baby, is that really what you want?"
American Psycho, through June 8, 2019, for Ray of Light Theatre, at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 8:00p.m., with a 2:00p.m. matinee on Saturday, June 1 and 8. Tickets are $35-40, and are available at www.rayoflighttheatre.com.