Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, an explosive, soot-black musical comedy now making its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theater, is an absurdist delight reminiscent of Christopher Durang’s looniest works.
The script, by Alex Timbers (who also directs), could come from an episode of South Park. Left orphaned by Indians’ arrows, the young Jackson (Benjamin Walker) branches out into the great frontier with an antipathy for the American Indian. Slaughtering these “savages” becomes his life’s mission. He also hates the pomposity found in Washington politics, and so forms the Democratic Party and steals the presidency away from incumbent John Quincy Adams.
Timbers paints Jackson as a petulant child, who whines when he doesn’t get his way, and later has him act like a rock star who trashes his hotel room. This Jackson speaks in modern uneducated slang, peppering his phrases with “like” and “you know” and enough four-lettered words to turn sailors pink. The Washington elite, meanwhile, are prissy fops in frilly collars, while the common man rallies around the latest celebrity, following him like sheep. Timbers draws many blatant correlations to the present, including John Quincy Adams’ claim that since his daddy was president, why shouldn’t he be?
The humor wobbles along the lines of good taste as lovers slit each other’s wrists and bathe in the blood as a “metaphor for our love,” a wheelchair bound-narrator is shot in the neck when she reveals details that infuriate Jackson, and racy dialogue like “We could even name a town after Jackson’s hole” spout from the characters’ mouths. However, after Jackson wins the election, the Carol Burnett-style jokes end and the mood becomes deadly serious, as all of Jackson’s deeds return to haunt him. Moreover, in contrast to the splashy, colorful first 70 minutes, everyone wears black and white clothing in the last act, and the backdrop is a large gray and white early-American flag.
The songs by Michael Friedman work well with the plot, but don’t stand on their own as fulfilling rock songs — in part, because the melodies lack dimension. There are some interesting pastiches of burlesque numbers and a clever use of the nursery rhyme “10 Little Indians” as a parable for the annihilation of the Native American population.
The cast is energetic and always in on the joke. Walker nicely inhabits Jackson, making him a lost soul who turns an entire country into his personal playground as he attempts to work out his childhood fears that have snowballed into full-blown racism. When the play shifts to darker shades, Walker smoothly dives into a more introspective persona as Jackson fruitlessly attempts to shove his Native American Pandora back into her box.
As his long-suffering wife, Rachel, Anjali Bhimani balances the silliness and pathos her character endures. Will Greenberg is hilarious as the snide Henry Clay, while Brian Hostenske is riotous as future President Martin Van Buren, playing him as a nitwit sycophant poof who knits and indulges in phallic foods.
The show’s taste for anachronism is perfectly demonstrated in the costumes by Emily Rebholz and sets by Robert Brill. Rebholz dresses the cast in Western attire with a modern slant; many of the guys wear their hair in the 21st-century fohawk style. Brill’s set is one of those Wild West shooting galleries found at a pier of Atlantic City, with stuffed moose heads and an alligator. During musical numbers, yellow hazard lights bombard the stage.
In the end, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a wild ride that will have audiences laughing until they cry, and then crying in shame for laughing.