Left: Heléne Yorke as Evelyn Williams, Right: Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman. Img. Credit: Flavorwire
Flavorwire: Theatre is rooted in an openness to repetition and interpretation — but in a time when we’re seeing so many productions based on films or books, what do you think theatre — and particularly musical theatre — can add to those preexisting narratives? What does it add, specifically, to American Psycho?
Rupert Goold: I don’t think there’s any dialogue in this show that’s from the movie and not the book. But our story is different, it’s a little more narrative whereas the book was episodic; [the musical] has a slightly Faustian shape to it.
There’s something about being in the room with [Patrick Bateman]. Part of the power of the film is that it is a film — you watch it in a dark room while you’re on your own. Whereas you’re in a public environment with him when youre in a theater, you’re all in one room with his very sexually present energy. It’s like Phillip Glass or Depeche Mode in that it moves heavily and intensely, with a chill, but the emotional payload at the end is incredibly powerful, because we haven’t been belting our hearts out at each other throughout the whole thing, and Patrick’s ultimate self-awareness and crisis I find really moving and deeply emotional, particularly in the final numbers, because we have compressed everything up until then.
But generally it’s an unconventional musical theater architecture — [for example], where is our “Want” number? I may be being naive, but I feel like there’s been a greater blurring between what a play is and what a musical is. Ours does have aspects of a David Mamet play at times.
Duncan Sheik: Or an Oscar Wilde play, for that matter. I actually prefer plays to musicals in general — and I say that as a composer. I’m always wanting there to be more scene and I’m not interested in a song continuing to tell the story. I want the song to be this really cool event that deepens the character in some way and explains the world they live in, and let the scenes tell the story.
What made you decide that an electronic score was the best way to tell this story?
Sheik: Growing up in the ’80s, I was more of a fan of the British side of things — Depeche Mode, New Order, Tears for Fears, Talk Talk. But I spent a lot of time going to nightclubs in New York City in the late ’80s, and a lot of that music was coming from Chicago and Detroit, and Europe as well. It was an interesting mixture of electronic music and guitars, an interesting hybridization, so I tried to have the score reflect that. Maybe in [the London production] the sounds were more specifically late-’80s and ’90s, and now I’ve opened it up for this version, in some way. The clinical aspect of it is what I really like. Rupert often talks about Stanley Kubrick when he talks about this particular show, and there’s something really clinical about his films, and getting into the psychology of these characters in a way that only Rupert can do. That’s the part of it that’s fascinating to me, and I wanted the music to reflect that psychology.
The discourse surrounding and general cultural indictment of Wall Street has obviously evolved since American Psycho was first released in 1991. How has the value of American Psycho changed with it?
Sheik: I actually reread the book in 2009. I read it when I was in college. That was right after the ’87 crash. So then reading it in 2009, right after the 2008 crash, and just thinking, “This guy, he’s predicted something in the culture that’s just continued to get worse and worse,” and the material just seemed really trenchant.
Goold: Culturally, that period was in the doghouse for a long time — both politically and aesthetically on some level. And now there’s been a reappropriation of that period by fashion and music, and in ideology as well. There’s an unapologetic nostalgia about some of it. New York itself has obviously changed, too. The book is one of the great millennial novels in the sense that it feels like the end of days, the fall of Rome — that something was coming. And yet I feel that that anxiety of late capitalism is very current.
One can read the book in a very materialist way and say it’s a critique of a certain kind of value structure surrounding market economics and how that biases personal identity. And also it was pre-internet and pre-social media, when people were really defined by brands more than by discourse. But I suppose that’s a cold reading, on some level. But for me, I’m more drawn to a slightly more universal Dostoyevskian story of a man who is desperate to fit in, and yet knows somehow, fundamentally, he’s not part of the world today. Some of us turn to creative industries or to alcohol or medication or children to escape those things. [Bateman] happens to turn to murderous, psychopathic pathology. But that’s more metaphoric.
I think it being here is different than in England, and I think it being two years later is different. Who knows what we could get [in the election?]. We could have Trump — a young venture capitalist of the ’80s — if that came to fruition, or a Bernie, who would, like, bring them all down.