Friday night I went to see the brilliant musical production of “American Psycho The Musical” on Broadway, for the second time. Saturday, on a whim, I went to a matinee performance of “Dear Even Hansen” off-Broadway at the Second Stage. I knew nothing about the show or its origins except that it was written by Benj Pasik and Justin Paul. After reading the Playbill I learned that they are jointly credited with writing the Music and Lyrics, and that the Book is by Steven Levenson. I was told by an Usher that the show is still in previews and opens on May 1st. Respecting that fact I won’t be reviewing the production I saw, so no spoilers ahead.
While observing the plot unfold I was reminded of a reader’s comment to Ben Brantley’s review of “American Psycho” published in The New York Times Friday morning. The reader commented on being “…utterly appalled and horrified that the torture and murder of women would be trivialized for Broadway.” From the totality of that reader’s comment there was nothing that indicated they actually saw “American Psycho” on Broadway, they were instead simply stating their position on depicting cruelty towards women. That then led me to begin thinking about what I was watching and hearing. I thought, “who is crueler–Patrick Bateman or Even Hansen?”
Now granted, fIrst and foremost both of these shows are theatre pieces. They both ask their audiences to suspend belief and to view and listen to what is happening on stage as if is happening in the real world. Each of the leading characters, Patrick Bateman and Evan Hansen, believe themselves to be disenfranchised and separate and apart from the others who inhabit their worlds. Patrick because he is superior and “not a common man,” and Evan because he believes he is invisible, living life “waving through a window.” As a result, they both act out behavior that is nothing short of being cruel to the people around them. But which is crueler?
Patrick Bateman is so emotionally removed that his means of coping with a world and a life that he despises is to create a fantasy world where he engages in acts of murder and torture. In this fictional world he creates for himself Patrick can easily remove anyone who displeases him or whom he finds unworthy of taking up space. The physical cruelty and bloodshed that he causes is initiated by himself, and although depicted in stage time it is inflicted in his imagination, stylistically and with scalpel-like precision on both women and men. Patrick’s initial delight in brutal killing gradually loses its ability to lift his spirits and he is left little choice but to accept his common man place the real world around him. The harm to himself and to others is purely in his head.
Evan Hansen, another loner, is about ten years younger than Patrick, and someone whose socio-economic class would have made him a prime target for Patrick had their worlds intertwined. He is awkward and shy, where Patrick is polished and out-going. Evan’s cruelty begins not by his own choice but by a circumstance of life that places Evan at the forefront of the family tragedy of teenage suicide. Almost immediately Evan realizes that he gains and becomes less invisible and more valued by a simple omission of fact. By not correcting this and perpetuating a mistaken impression Evan engages in an emotional cruelty on the real people in his world, vulnerable innocents already suffering a tragedy from which none ever truly recover.
So, which of the two is truly more cruel? Patrick Bateman, who inflicts imaginary physical pain and death on people in his imaginary world? Or is it Evan Hansen, who by initially omitting a fact promotes and perpetuates emotional and psychological life-long harm on real people in his real world?