Bloody Andrew Jackson’s revisionist history

Anarchy in the US
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 17, 2012

SUMMIT MEETING Stigler, Short, Rabinow, and Lang.

If Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson were a chapter in a history book, it would be a comical pop-up section showing arrows and tomahawks flying, fists and flags waving, audible gunfire, political rallies, lots of speech balloons with bad language, and a punk soundtrack that would curl adjoining pages like the toes of dying wicked witches.

But the 2006 experimental rock musical, with its book by Alex Timbers and music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, is popping up in a Providence warehouse space, presented by the Wilbury Group (through July 28), directed by Josh Short and David Tessier. If it doesn't prompt audiences to swarm out and redress the injustices of America's past, it's not for lack condemning content.

Interesting and perhaps even accurate points are made about historical episodes and 19th-century political figures, but the punk obligation dials down brain activity to introductory observations such as "Populism — yea, yea! " When little Andy loses his family to Indian raids, his response in song is: "Life sucks! And my life sucks in particular!" The flippant tone and intentional inarticulateness leads to such lines as, when a British soldier is beating Jackson's feet: "You really gotta fucking stop that shit. It fucking hurts!"

That said, despite the so-hip-it-hurts mandate of the show's first two-thirds to not take serious things seriously because that would be a pretentious affront to seriousness, the last half-hour of this 90-minute performance does get emotionally involving. By then we are empathizing with an overwrought Jackson, played with humor and unironic intensity by Joe Short. That's when he is agonizing over his 1830 presidential decision to exile various Native American nations from their homelands to what is now Oklahoma. Known now as the Trail of Tears, the forced marches led to the deaths of thousands.

Other characters fill out his character. The love of his life, in this account, was Rachel Robards (Alyssa Gorgone), and while they thought that her divorce was final, that point isn't made here, giving artificial dramatic import to his temporary bigamy, which was used against him politically. He adopted a Creek orphan boy he named Lyncoya (Jo-án Peralta). (Who knew?) Four prior presidents form a comical little cabal chorus, huddling and whispering under silly wigs, plotting against him, upon opportunity: John Quincy Adams (Stuart Wilson, as pleased to be one of the boys), Martin Van Buren (Kelly Seigh, jolly in a fat suit), Henry Clay (Dave Rabinow, scowling, always scowling), and James Monroe (Andrew Stigler, well, doctrinaire). A Storyteller (Clare Blackmer) provides narrative, until she is shot by Jackson because he wants all the attention.

What do we learn of his lasting influence on America and about him personally? Well, General Jackson did double the territory of the United States after the 1815 Battle of New Orleans tossed the British out of the country for the last time. He did found the Democratic Party and associated it with a populism that the country had never known before, promising to "dismantle the aristocracy" and earning him the sobriquet "King Mob." This Jackson lists four things he hates: the British, the Spanish, those fancy-pants Washingtonians, "but mostly Indians." When in 1813, President Monroe agreed to let the Creeks keep their land, Jackson nevertheless removed them from their 20 million acres and placed them in Florida swamps.

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Related: A cautionary tale from 18th-century France, Trinity's Absurd Person Singular, Review: The Murder Trial of John Gordon at the Park Theatre, More more >
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