Patrick Bateman or Evan Hansen? Who is Crueler?

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.

"Dear Evan Hansen" is currently playing at Second Stage through May 22nd.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is currently playing at Second Stage through May 22nd.

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?

Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho the Musical" on Broadway.
Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho the Musical” on Broadway.

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.

Ben Platt stars as Evan Hansen in the Second Stage Production of 'Dear Evan Hansen" currently performing through May 22, 2016.
Ben Platt stars as Evan Hansen in the Second Stage Production of ‘Dear Evan Hansen” currently performing through May 22, 2016.

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?


Theatre: “AMERICAN PSYCHO The Musical,” 2016 Broadway

“AMERICAN PSYCHO The Musical” is COMPANY for The Millennials.

One might make the quick comparison that AMERICAN PSYCHO the Musical is SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET for a new generation. After all, the main characters of both these musicals spend a goodly portion of plot and stage time murdering victims, either with a razor (Sweeney Todd) or in Patrick Bateman’s world with knives, or a buzzsaw or a gun. I would argue, however, to look deeper. For me, AP is the Millennial’s COMPANY.

If you haven’t seen AP let me say there will not be any spoilers here. Hey, I’m not even giving a critical assessment of the musical. I’m simply going to explain why it’s my point of view.

What equates Patrick Bateman to Bobby (the main character in COMPANY)? A fear of commitment and specifically of marriage. The drivers in both musicals are Patrick’s and Bobby’s emotional and psychological states as they unconsciously move towards an understanding of, and conquering of, that fear. Perhaps they are successful, perhaps not.

“American Psycho” is currently playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Broadway.

In both AP and COMPANY Patrick and Bobby are single men living in Manhattan in the last quarter of the 20th Century, 25 to 30 years apart. Both men are well-to-do and happen to be white.  Both musicals are told within the framework of the emotional relationship between Patrick and Bobby to the other people (characters) in their world, as well as how those others see each of them. Both musicals include a birthday party for each man as hosted by those who hold them each most dear. Both musicals also include a wedding. The line that connects Patrick to Bobby, as opposed to Sweeney Todd, is Patrick’s and Bobby’s connection, or lack thereof, to the people around them.

Looking briefly at Sweeney Todd, he’s a man at an older age in life, living in another time, the Victorian era of the 19th Century, and in another country, London. Once married and with a child, both of whom he lost, Sweeney, is focused on revenge. That is what drives the musical. Sweeney’s relationships with the other people in his world are relationships that support his goal (Mrs. Lovett, the Beadle, etc.) or he has no use for the person (e.g., Anthony or Toby)

Sweeney is about revenge while Patrick is about self-awareness. That is especially evident if you believe, as I do, that what we, the audience, see on stage in not happening in real time, but rather in Patrick’s head.

So when someone says that AP is SWEENEY TODD, all they may be seeing is the slashing. That’s why I say look below the surface. One might see why Patrick and AMERICAN PSYCHO are Bobby and COMPANY the Millennials.

Oh, then there’s the matter of whether Patrick and Bobby are gay, or bi-sexual. I say, I’ll leave that for another blog, if there is one.