Pros: Hetain Patel is a great performer, and his impressions of suave American movie characters are tonnes of fun.
Cons: I would have preferred the underlying themes of identity and race to be explored in more depth.
Hetain Patel is a born performer. When he’s on stage all eyes follow him, compelled by his magnetism. In the one-man show American Boy – which is premiering at Sadler’s Wells for just two nights this week – Patel takes us into the world of American movie culture and home-grown TV programmes, with witty character impressions that move seamlessly alongside each other.
Barely has he delivered an uncannily good impression of Russell Crowe’s Maximus from Gladiator, when he slips into a role in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (“You’re Mr Pink!”), and then to Gloria from White Men Can’t Jump:
“See, if I’m thirsty. I don’t want a glass of water, I want you to sympathize. I want you to say, ‘Gloria, I too know what it feels like to be thirsty. I too have had a dry mouth.’”
It’s funny, it’s clever, and Patel is rather brilliant as he jumps from one accent, character, and identity to the next. Unfortunately for me I’m not very well versed in American movie culture, which would have made the show more enjoyable (I had to look up many of the films later on). If you are very much at home with these movies you’ll love Patel’s impressions.
The humour was somewhat puerile, and so I found myself thinking of old male friends from my younger days, who were constantly and proudly delivering famous lines from movies. In spite of this there is also a more serious element to the dramatic arrangement about race and identity that I wish had been elaborated upon more. Most of the characters Patel slips into are brash and confident; loud powerful men who are good-looking, cool and funny. Men, in other words, whom teenage boys watching these films in the 80s and 90s would simply have adored. In contrast there is also “Vinny Banana”, a YouTuber who tells his viewers about his “amazing” Spiderman costume and how to wear it.
There is a sharp difference between the witty and smooth movie-characters and this slightly awkward, clearly overly enthusiastic Superman aficionado. I found Patel’s impression of Vinny touching and endearing, but I also felt uncomfortable laughing at this very real person who is not a character from a film but simply somebody who is trying to share his love of Superman with like-minded people. It was comical but also really quite fascinating to see the relationship between suave, made-up movie characters and their fans – fans who try to slip into their skins by creating elaborate costumes which cover them from head to toe. I just wish it had been elaborated upon more.
That said Vinny did (unintentionally) get some of the best lines. His musings on his being called a “Mexican Superman”, and his preference for costumes that cover his face (and thereby his whole identity), gave a sharp edge to Patel’s impressions of white super heroes. A quick Google search of upcoming super hero movies confirmed what I’d feared; with white actors starring in Robocop, Captain America 2, and 300: Rise of an Empire, our movie culture still has a long way to go.
While I might not have been one of the audience members who were holding their sides laughing during the show, I did ultimately find American Boy brilliant in its thoughtfulness.
Writer: Lines come from various films and TV programmes
Director: Hetain Patel
Associate Choreographer: Lorena Randi
Dramaturgs: Eva Martinez and Michael Pinchbeck
Producer: Gwen Van Spijk
This show played on March 21 and 22 and has now ended its run.