Benjamin Walker in American Psycho.
If you work at it, Sunday can be a two-show day, for me capped by the malevolent musical American Psycho, based on Bret Easton Ellis’s icy novel of a 1980s Wall Street account executive and serial killer. Yes, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd came first in making multiple murders an apt topic for the musical stage, but unlikePsycho‘s Patrick Bateman, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street at least had revenge as a mitigating motive.
Still, thanks to a hyper-slick production directed by Rupert Goold (King Charles III) and a leering, yet ingratiating performance by Benjamin Walker (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), the audience not only accepts, but cheers on each homicide — by knife, axe or chainsaw. It is all an allegory of the conspicuous consumption of the 1980s, as Duncan Sheik’s chic, designer-label name-dropping lyrics make clear. American Psycho is the diametric opposite of Waitress, which is unapologetically cute and cuddly. Still to be seen is how much of an audience there is for Psycho’s Euro-Pop mayhem, but I enjoyed it a great deal.
I guess I should feel guilty, but I far preferred the nihilism of American Psycho to my matinee show, the terribly well-meaning and socially relevant Eclipsed, playwright Danai Girira’s stark take on the dehumanizing oppression of women in the Second Liberian Civil War. She easily makes the case that these women suffered violent abuse at the hands of Reba warlords, but the script and Liesl Tommy’s direction leave little room for subtlety.
Perhaps the most significant thing about this production is that it marks the first time all all-female cast of African descent, as well as a woman playwright and director with roots on that continent, arrived on Broadway in a commercial production. It is very much an ensemble theater piece, yet the company includes Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), who shows she has genuine stage presence and acting chops. It would be hard not to have empathy for these Liberian women characters, but the play they are in is too heavy-handed by half.
Monday: What to do when you don’t win the Hamilton lottery.