On June 26, pharma bro and “most hated man in America” Martin Shkreli will go on trial for securities fraud.
Before then, you can watch the story of Shkreli and his infamous price-gouging of drugs for HIV and cancer patients in a wry off-Broadway musical, which is on until June 18 at the Players Theatre in downtown Manhattan. Titled PharmaBro: An American Douchical, it features a string of absurdist plots such as a dead member of the Wu-Tang Clan teaming up with actor Bill Murray to steal back Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, the one-of-a-kind hip-hop album that the real Martin Shkreli really purchased for $2 million.
Its lead character belts out lines such as “I’m Martin fucking Shkreli, and you can all go fuck yourselves”—in lilting song—while battling a flock of reporters and precariously spinning on stage atop a hoverboard the entire time. It is satire at its strangest. But it is also, oddly, a humanization of a figure who has been lambasted in the news to the point of no return.
The real Shkreli, the son of immigrant parents, clawed his way up in the business world to become CEO of multiple companies and amass a net worth of about $45 million. As head of both Turing Pharmaceuticals and biotech company Retrophin, Shkreli jacked up the price of certain HIV and cancer drugs by as much as 5,000% and allegedly ran a Ponzi scheme to boot; his propensity for meticulous online trolling has not done anything to boost his character in the eyes of most Americans.
But as much as PharmaBro—which initially premiered under a different title in July 2016 and runs a full 85 minutes—is a statement on corporate greed (and also a particularly timely satire, the likes of which are increasingly popular in the age of Donald Trump), it is also the posing of a question: What, at the core, is the American Dream? In today’s fraught political landscape, amid boiling racial and socioeconomic tension, US citizens are being asked to reconsider the morals off of which the country is truly hinged.
The real Shkreli contends that his raising of prices on the drugs was not anything many other pharmaceutical leaders haven’t practiced—but that he alone is being scapegoated. “History will tell the tale of whether or not… some action or thing was seen as good or bad,” he said in a Facebook livestream in March, in which he asked strangers to call in and discuss the musical. “I think it’s intellectually dishonest to focus on one aspect or what you think is one aspect of something really complicated. It’s sort of propaganda-like. It’s worse than dishonest—arguably, it’s fraudulent.”