Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the first governor of Florida, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans and the baddest boy you’ve ever seen — your president, Andrew fuckin’ Jackson. He promises to kick the sissy, frilly National Republicans out of the White House — but more importantly, he solemnly swears to be the kind of sexy, flawed rockstar that would make your parents have a conniption.
In this way — poured into tight pants, eyes rimmed with black liner and backed by an ensemble of the baddest guys ’n gals — Andrew Jackson takes the stage in PUP’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, directed by Julia Hammer ’15. It’s a rock musical that tells the story of this nation’s seventh president, reimagining Jackson as a guitar slinging, injun’-shooting emo rocker. It revels in its dumbed-down version of history, relying on anachronistic slang for humor. That “fourscore” stuff may be a real snooze, but you’ll sure perk up when you hear the prez call James Monroe a douchebag and one Founding Father explode, “Jesus, van Buren, why do you always gotta be such a motherfucker?”
Ten minutes into this show, you might be wondering what exactly you’ve gotten yourself into. Lines like “Huzzah! Your shoes have been cobbled!” immediately precede screams of “My face is literally melting off into my hands right now!” But give the show another 20 minutes and you will come around. Bloody Bloody brilliantly employs a South Park-style “mock anything that moves” satire to skewer everything from Obama’s “Yes We Can” slogan to John McCain’s “maverick” reputation. With a knife tucked into shiny, low-slung pants, Matt Seely ’14 — playing the production’s title role — struts and slinks across the stage. He delivers a performance that is raucous, mesmerizing and frightening all at once as he grows from petulant youngster to furious, xenophobic adult, enraged by the uselessness of the current leadership and finally to precariously insecure chief executive. Seely boasts a sulky sex appeal, an arrogant charisma and an athletic exuberance born of angry restlessness that is impossible to resist. He even tries to bully his historical legacy in a clever running gag with Oge Ude ’16, the irrepressibly chatty narrator.
There are quite a few standout performers in addition to Seely. Evan Strasnick ’15 plays the sniveling, sycophantic, cartoonishly gay and ultimately somewhat sensible Martin Van Buren beautifully, but he shines most in his flamboyant cameo role as the Spaniard. “Jorje Washington is NO GAY,” he purrs through a black mustache. “JOO is the gay.” David Drew ’14 serves up two stunning and wildly different performances — one as the cackling, villainous Henry Clay and one as the quiet, troubled Indian who calls himself Black Fox. Drew’s Henry Clay will make you burst out with delighted laughter, particularly when he grasps the head of the taxidermied weasel wrapped around his neck and lifts it to his ear so as to hear it whisper evil schemes. On the other hand, you will find yourself riveted to the stillness of Drew’s Black Fox and the agony that bubbles beneath the surface of his reserve. Matt Volpe ’16 delivers a remarkably powerful monologue from the perspective of a man swept up in the crazed, adoring fervor that sweeps the nation during Jackson’s inauguration.
Despite these stunning performances, this reviewer has a couple of reservations. Although the cast of Bloody Bloody includes a few vocal superstars, the vocal performances are uneven overall. More importantly, though, this cast occasionally misinterprets the tone of the play, camping up the material unnecessarily. A script with this much absurdity built in requires a production that plays it completely straight. What Bloody Bloody needs is a production that doesn’t exaggerate the cartoon, but rather seeks to ground it in the kind of truth and dramatic tension that can give the show some really gripping stakes. More specifically, this production of Bloody Bloody falters only in the moments when its actors try to milk laughter from slapstick bits that shouldn’t have been dragged out in the first place.
But never fear; the mistakes of this production are the exception, not the rule. Bloody Bloody raises a fascinating central question that explores whether Jackson was the hateful and immoral American Hitler or a savvy, kick-ass, self-aware dissident who did what he had to do to keep a young, unstable country afloat. This is a hilarious, absorbing and potent piece of theater.
4 out of 5 paws
Pros: Witty, original, wildly fun to watch, some fantastic performances.Cons: Vocally uneven, humor doesn’t always land.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2013/04/09/32787/