At ArtsWest: Andrew Jackson as hard-rocker-in-chief
From its blaring emo rock music, video projections and profanity-laced humor, to its rude skepticism about how the West was won, "Bloody...
Seattle Times theater critic
'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson'Through Oct. 20, ArtsWest Playhouse, 4711 California Ave. S.W., Seattle; $17-$36.50 (206-938-0339 or www.artswest.org).
Theater review |
From its blaring emo rock music, video projections and profanity-laced humor, to its rude skepticism about how the West was won, "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" is at least as much about our own age as that of the seventh president of the United States of America.
The high-octane show was hatched in Los Angeles, became a hit Off Broadway then a longshot on Broadway, and is now making the rounds of regional theaters — including ArtsWest, where "Bloody Bloody" boldly ushers in the West Seattle theater's 2012-13 season.
The staging by ArtsWest artistic head Christopher Zinovitch pumps up the volume and energy in this freewheeling re-branding of Jackson as a kinky rock star, whose brand of "small government" populism is founded on land-grabbing genocide and (sound familiar?) Western resentment against East Coast elitism.
In actor Kody Bringman, the production has a dynamic leading man with the raw charisma and vocal power to work a rally into a frenzy. With his peroxided locks, heavy mascara and volatile sensitivity, his Jackson is a cross between punky rockers Billy Idol and Billie Joe Armstrong, with a dash of corrupt, rabble-rousing politico Huey Long thrown in.
Meg McLynn as Jackson's strong-willed wife, Rachel, and gifted child actor Morgan Gwilym Tso as the Native-American boy the couple adopts, also impress.
What's off-putting, especially in the first half of the 90-minute piece, are some technical flubs and the undisciplined mugging and camping of the young ensemble/chorus, who cover a slew of minor roles.
True, the show offers a very broadly written (by Alex Timbers) mock-up of Jackson's log-cabin upbringing in the wilds of the cholera-infested Indian territory of the Carolinas. And it plays fast and loose with historical fact — in the service of PC-bashing satire and comic exaggeration.
But there's a fine line between hip parody and loudly tiresome clowning, and it is crossed much more often here than in the New York version.
What seems like a rash of "Saturday Night Live"-style sketch comedy in its sophomoric irreverence of all things Americana eventually delves into the demands of being a president — especially one as wildly contradictory as Bringman's achingly conflicted Jackson. The show also considers the pitfalls of celebrity-based grass-roots populism, and cruel ironies of a liberty-loving country whose Manifest Destiny depended on erasing the rights of others.
Politics are treated as grist for slangy farce in "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," and politicians like John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren as crudely drawn buffoons.
But Michael Friedman's rollicking score has sizzle (and a bit of fizzle on opening night, due to glitches in the sound system), and some sly, memorable tunes ("I'm Not That Guy," "Ten Little Indians"). And amid all the gags, there are issues of American identity and political culture that resonate in this current election season.
Misha Berson: email@example.com