BWW Review: AMERICAN PSYCHO is Killer Fun at Stray Cat Theatre
BWW Review: AMERICAN PSYCHO is Killer Fun at Stray Cat Theatre
American Psycho is a darkly comedic, 1980's style musical about a psychopathic Wall Street douche that can't keep himself from brutally murdering people. It is satirical, hyperbolic, and quite terrifying. Stray Cat Theatre has made a name for itself as the premiere theatrical producer for hard hitting, rarely presented plays. I'd argue it is the best place to see contemporary drama. That is obviously not enough of a title for SCT, as they continue to branch out with the occasional musical endeavor. And thank God for that! There is no other theatre in The Valley that could pull off American Psycho with as clear a vision, sense of humor, or keen direction. This is a perfect storm of creative team, performance, music, and style. Stray Cat's name has become synonymous with high quality productions and American Psychos is a bloody, glistening example of why.
There is no one better to helm this devilish musical than the esteemed Ron May. The brains and heart behind STC, May is Arizona's most skilled, specific, brilliant director, and I'd fight anyone who says otherwise. His production of "Columbinus" at STC changed my life. Working as the guiding hand behind this misanthropic character study, May is in his wheelhouse. His twisted sense of humor is clear throughout, and because of it the comedic performances are right in the pocket. May has a knack for reeling in an audience with a slow burn severity that makes the explosions of visceral brutality alarmingly effective.
American Psycho delves deep into the mind of Patrick Bateman, the 26 year old, wildly successful, cutthroat adonis living in New York City in the late 80's. He's plagued with growing thoughts of contempt, envy, and ultimately, murder. Valley star Toby Yatso carries the weight of the show on his capable 6'6" shoulders as the show's central figure. I've known Yatso for many years, long before he became a staple at The Phoenix Theatre Company, and I can confidently say that this is Yatso at his best. He has grown into a powerful, commanding performer with a commitment, energy, and technique that is unmatched. I've never seen him disappear so fully into a character. His intensity is intimidating and his charisma is ferocious. His specificity is layered, showing glimpses of humanity under Bateman's shining yet monstrous veneer. With his clear voice and fluid yet clenched movement, he is perfectly suited for the flawless Bateman, and it's very clear why STC has brought an Equity contract into the mix in order to secure Yatso's involvement.
For those who aren't familiar with the term "Equity," Yatso is a member of the stage actor's Union, the Actor's Equity Association, which is what the asterisk* in your program indicates. This means he has committed to only perform under Equity contracts. These special guest contracts require the interested theatre to uphold certain rehearsal/performance standards and a minimum pay scale, often including health and pension benefits. There are very few theatres locally that qualify as "Equity Houses," so Arizona based actors that have pledged to the Union are very limited in where they are able to perform. Thanks to these guest contracts, Non-Union theatres like Stray Cat, and most theatres in Arizona, can bring Union artists on board. The hope is that by including Yatso on an Equity contract, his impressive skill set will elevate the production, and in this instance, the move is a ringing success. With Arizona being a right to work state, performers that are part of the Union have historically struggled, but with a resurgence of local Equity contracts and new members, it seems to be an exciting time for the Arizona Equity chapter. When theatre goers support production companies that hire local Union artists, they are helping encourage artists to stay local and continue enriching our theatrical scene. Kudos to Stray Cat Theatre for making this choice and for showing their support of the Actor's Union.
Though the show is largely Yatso's, there is a first rate ensemble that plays a wide variety of lively characters. Everyone has moments that feature them in hilarious bits, but the two main supporting characters nearly steal the show. Firstly, Michael Schauble is downright hilarious as Timothy Price, Bateman's coked up colleague. He's got the eyes of a shark, and blinks nearly as often. Schauble's fueled up performance chews the scenery every moment he's on stage. His is the only energy that tops that of Yatso's Bateman, leaving you equally as frightened by his uneasiness and exhausted from laughter. It is scary how perfect Schauble is, and it's hard to take your eyes off him.
But for me, the really exciting discovery was Emily Mohney as Bateman's frosty, calculating girlfriend, Evelyn Williams. I've never come across Mohney, though her bio reveals she's performed at most every local theatre. Mohney is a star, no question about it. She is stunning, yes, but what's most important is she has the most engaging presence I've seen in a long time. She also has the best comedic timing of the bunch, and her voice is literal butter. The role that I barely remember from the Broadway production simply soars in Mohney's magnetic hands, and I wanted more. Polished with ease, Mohney is also most believable as a high class socialite with an air of sophistication, breeding, and strength. I will make a point to see every show she does from here on out.
The music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) are a perfect homage to the synth style pop hits of yesterday. They are perfectly tacky, seemingly straightforward, and basic as hell, with most of the score performed in a half spoken, half sung style. This is definitely not your average musical in any sense of the word. There is a fusion of a few popular hits like "In The Air Tonight, " "Hip To Be Square," and "Don't You Want Me" that weave in and out of original songs which help transport you in time. The one man band, conducted by William Sawyer, relies heavily on tracks and synth. The sound is so specific and spot on that I can't think of another score like it. Music Director Cullen Law has delivered on all accounts, with a cast that sounds like pop heaven and pitch perfect beats that drive the underlying force.
The set design by Aaron Sheckler is cold, sharp, and totally 80's with walls that are cut into white squares acting as a home for various projections. I love me a period piece, and this production leans in hard with killer costuming, makeup, and hair design all by Maci Can Hosler. Obnoxious colors liven the monochromatic backdrop, brightening the soulless characters that inhabit them. The media design by Dallas Nichols is big fun with block cell phones, retrofutursim art, and city scape b-roll filtered to look like it's projected from a VCR. Kat Balies' choreography is perfectly balanced with humor and extravagance, playing up angles and understated movement. She really knows how to showcase those shoulder pads.
All in all, American Psycho at Stray Cat Theatre is not to be missed. This is alternative, contemporary musical theatre at it's best, and I cannot wait to see what STC does next. Stay Cat Theatre breathes exciting life and vibrant color into the pastel hewn local theatrical landscape, and with a $40 ticket price, it is an absolute steal. Please support this daring company in any way you can, but most of all, get your tickets to American Psycho now!
American Psycho runs until November 23rd at Tempe Center for the Arts in the Studio Theatre: 700 W Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, AZ 85281
Tickets: $40 for Adults / $35 Students/Seniors
Thursdays are Student Nights $15 IN THE LOBBY WITH VALID STUDENT ID
**prices do not include service or convenience fees