A Romp Through the Excess of the 1980s in 'American Psycho,' Now at Blank Canvas Theatre, Falls Off in the Second Act

Psychopathy set to music

click to enlarge A Romp Through the Excess of the 1980s in 'American Psycho,' Now at Blank Canvas Theatre, Falls Off in the Second Act
Photo by Andy Dudik

If you remember the 1980s, one of the things you might recall is that we had no idea that psychopaths essentially run everything. Due to their monomaniacal focus and disregard for negative impacts on anyone else, these people rose to power on the wings of their inherent cruelty and shallowness.

We know better now, since over time we have been instructed by businesspeople (Elon Musk) and politicians (you know who) that money and power are intoxicating drugs, and they ain't about to share the needle.

Speaking of psychopaths, in "American Psycho," the confessed (and always confessing) homicidal slasher Patrick Bateman rises again from the eponymous 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis. Bateman, a self-absorbed stud Wall Street investment banker, takes up grisly murder instead of racquetball while sharing his life with those of his peers he declines to murder.

That chilling tale was turned into a 2000 horror flick starring Christian Bale and then, in 2013, it became a satirical stage musical with book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, along with electro-pop music and an array of clever lyrics by Duncan Sheik.

Now at Blank Canvas Theatre, the first act is a fast and funny romp through the excesses of the "one-percenters" during the '80s. Their lives are carefully and competitively curated, from their Armani suits and Manolo Blahnik gowns down to the gloss (no, make that the matte) finish on their business cards, nicely detailed in the song "Cards."

This all clips along splendidly until the intermission. During those 80 minutes we meet Patrick, played by the suave, sleek, and terminally handsome Michael Glavan. He is eager to share his existential ennui, expressed in the opener "Selling Out" when he and the company sing, "We look expensive/But we're apprehensive/'Cause we don't know, don't know, don't know."

Whether he's dressed in his designer tighty-whities, a tailored Brioni suit, or a blood-spattered raincoat, Glavan commands the stage as he voices both his passion for gore and the psychic pain that this imposes upon him. Yes, it's all about him and the show creators, along with director Patrick Ciamacco, have buckets of fun with it all.

Patrick is tormented by his envy of the even sleeker Paul Owen (Pat Miller) while he tries to cuddle with and not garrote his girlfriend Evelyn (a feisty and equally shallow Emma Beekman). Then there's Luis Carruthers (Zach Palumbo), who mistakes a failed strangulation by Patrick as a loving gesture and starts to romantically stalk him. Not a good idea. The one normal person in Patrick's world is his assistant Jean, played and sung with style by Jennie Nasser.

Unfortunately, the play continues with a second act that begins to explore Patrick's psychopathy. This comes complete with hallucinations, a poorly written subplot involving a couple ladies of the evening (Maria VJ Matthews and Anita LoBosco), and finally ends—a bit exhausted from its excessive repetition of the core theme—at about 2.5 hours.

A lot of the wit that keeps Act One sparking is missing from the second act. Even the songs get tangled up in too much airheaded speculation. In the final number, "This Is Not an Exit," the company sings, "Maybe this schism is just a symptom/Of late capitalism...Of worlds that wouldn't listen/To their own collapse."

This two-bit psychology can't even be saved by the wonderful choreography of Katie Gibson, who often rings the small stage with cast members who dance in place but still convey the misdirected energy and desperate need to be seen and admired, typical of that slice of time and that strata of people.

"American Psycho" is a hoot-and-a-half for a while, an ideal Halloween treat for those bored by witches and goblins. Just try not to think about the real psychopaths who now roam our world.

American Psycho
Through November 5 at Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studios, 1305 West 78th St., Suite 211, 440-941-0458, www.blankcanvastheatre.com

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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