Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: The American Psyche

Pop culture undoubtedly plays a part in our psyche whether we realize it or not. The people or characters or movies or songs influence us significantly. Written by Ashley J. Jacobson, The American Play is a dark and twisted drama about abuse, the victim mindset, and social media's reaction to rape culture. Jumping from flashbacks, interrogations, and message board hijinx, Jacobson expertly crafted a drama inspired by Bret Easton Ellis's "American Psycho", that will unsettle you.  Tim, a non-affluent college student, goes to the city to transform his image after experiencing a severely traumatic event during high school. He meets Luis, a young Patrick Bateman worshipper, who shows him the ways to really make it in the world. Under his tutelage, Tim transforms into a monster that he no longer recognizes. On his journey to self-destruction, Tim's former friend Shelly attempts to save him from himself but in turn becomes a victim herself. The American Play is an interesting study of class status and rape culture that never once becomes overt. When Jacobson informs, it's through the story, something many writers sadly don't do. The way she unravels the mystery is near flawless. She sets up the devices and allows each to inform the other in a particular manner. There are moments the scenes lag, but for the most part the energy is exuberant. "American Psycho" plays an integral part in the story but Jacobson never relied on it as a crutch. Bateman is an obsession to Luis, and in turn Tim, and she gives you just enough to understand.
It's very possible to say that The American Play was perfectly cast. The three young actors that comprised this play fit their roles to a t. The glue of the play was Michael DeBartolo as Tim. His emotional and psychological journey was fascinating to watch. Never once did he falter or lose focus on the character within the character. Tim is damaged yet DeBartolo didn't make him a victim. As Luis, John Charles Nagy has the perfect All-American boy look. And arrogance, something that Luis exudes. Nagy brought an immense amount of Bateman confidence to the character. For the most part, Jen Jacob was understated yet mesmerizing. As Shelly, she was genuinely a sympathetic character.
Director Darren Johnston allowed ingenuity to take over the overall design concept. The production was crisp and would likely get the Bateman stamp of approval. The set by Jonathan Cotle was comprised of three panels with video designed by Jordan Harrison. It was a brilliant concept but with a small space, the lighting and projector were in a constant fight. The throw of the projection forced actors to obstruct the image at times. And to light the company, the light levels were too strong to see certain panel moments. The music selections by Rebecca Shulman were good but bonus points are taken away for not using Fall Out Boy’s “American Beauty/American Psycho” as the curtain call music.
The American Play is a solid production with a great script and well-versed cast. It’s a piece that’s been kicking around for a bit and may have gotten the boost it needs to get a larger run.