Why Bret Easton-Ellis Won't Like the 'American Psycho' Musical
I will admit that although I appreciate the cultural phenomenon surrounding American Psycho, I can never consider myself a "fan." I have friends who would consider themselves a part of the Bret Easton-Ellis fandom, and that's just fine by me, but I'll never be able to get past the sadism, or past the misogyny of the now-infamous Patrick Bateman. But even if I don't enjoy the horrors of Bateman's world (or mind, depending on how you view the book and film), I understand their importance. When American Psycho debuted as a novel in 1991, Simon & Schuster retracted their offer to publish it three months before release, calling it "an error of judgement to put our name on a book of such questionable taste." The enterprising minds at Vintage quickly picked up the title, whose "sadistic contents" had already inspired a media firestorm and had caused some libraries to ban it from shelves.
The cinematic version would take nine years to produce, and it followed Easton-Ellis's sadistic design to the letter. In case America has forgotten, Christian Bale was a possible serial killer before he was Batman, and his performance rocked moviegoers and critics alike. Roger Ebert gave the film three stars and called it an adaptation "about men's vanity," suggesting that Mary Harron's script and direction generalized Patrick Bateman's psychosis into a critique of the American male. Surely, Harron cut Bateman's body count down considerably, and with deft force, but the raw, gruesome energy of Patrick Bateman and his competitive world remains. And now it's about to be ruined on an off-Broadway stage.
American Psycho was first adapted into a musical in London, where its legacy is equally complicated but less tied to the business of national entertainment. Now it will be hopping over the pond to an off-Broadway stage, hoping to make audiences in the US much more comfortable than the movie or book versions. Although British reviewers seemed to love the show, many noted that the violence was pared down even further than the film, and the entire production pivoted to a dark comedy, with multiple farcical musical numbers.
I personally love the idea of stripping American Psycho of its violence against women, psychosis, and murder to reveal a relatively lighthearted satire of consumer culture. But I know that a play of this sort doesn't deserve to wear the American Psycho name many have come to despise. The original book and film were equal parts loathed, beloved, and feared, and a stage adaptation should at least hit close to these emotions. Because if Patrick is stripped of his chainsaw, we're left with a darker, sexier How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Patrick Bateman would assert that he simply is not there.