Tex And The City

Love, Jackson Style

Coming Up: Jon Paul discovers his writing roots thanks to a maniac onstage at the Public Theatre.

Last Friday, I fell in love all over again with a man some are calling the American Hitler.  I first became infatuated with him when I was 11, while visiting his Tennessee home.  In fact, he could possibly be responsible for my eventual career as a travel writer—I recently unearthed a detailed diary of the trip to The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of these United States.

Describing his estate as “real pretty” and clearly impressed because “I got postcards of it,” I was obviously more struck by a town down the road of Gatlinburg that “had at least 15 hotels (underlined 6 times) & 10 (underlined 7 times) putt-putt golf courses.”  With observations like that, my writing path was clear.

But nothing on that trip prepared me for the explosion on stage at the Public Theater’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, now extended through May 30.  If anyone can make you swoon for a homicidal maniac, it’s Benjamin Walker who swaggers onstage like sex on a stick.  Boy was I hooked.  Walker’s mix of hunky attitude balanced every so often by boyish defeat is a winning combination that makes you root for Jackson.  Even though what you are rooting for is, ultimately, decimation of the Native Americans.  The play’s meditation on Jackson’s charm as channeled by Walker is a wonderful reminder that populism has deeper roots—and often disasterous consequences—for America than just the latest incarnation of the Tea Party or our current sometimes popular/ist Obama.

Maria Elena Ramirez is outstanding as Jackson’s bigamist wife Rachel, the only real female role in the President’s entourage.  Ramirez has a star turn in her duet with Walker where they lather blood on each other, an homage to the belief in the health benefits of bleeding.  It’s probably more gruesomely captivating than anything the Adams Family is serving up.  But I thought Ramirez deserved a better “second act” number to show off her talents, and give the show some more female power—how about a song of betrayal for Jackson’s decision to run for President after his first time was stolen from him by a dirty electoral scheme?  It sounds like the 2000 election for good reason—history in America tends to repeat itself.  It’s the citizens that forget.

As the fey Van Buren, Lucas Near-Vergrugghe (how’s that for a mouthful) nearly steals the show in a completely silent scene of Jackson’s censure after illegally removing Indians and Spaniards from Florida.  Lucas’ facial expressions, antics, and clever ability to simultaneously eat and not eat a twinkie, are like watching a classic Second City Improv sketch—I didn’t want it to end.

Packed into a small space, Donyale Werle does wonders with the scenic design.  The entire theater is transformed into a New Orleans-style bordello.  Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the tiny stage has a few tricks in store—recreating a famous tableau of the Indians’ trail of tears.  Danny Mefford’s choreography keeps things pumping along with modern moves straight from a Justin Timberlake concert.

Some might be bothered with writer/director Alex Timbers playing a little fast and loose with some historical facts, and a decidedly un-PC bent.  But hell, not me.  Shooting a wheel-chair bound narrator?  That’s genius.  Besides, I like that all the bad guys—Calhoun, Adams—are just jealous queens.  They’d fit right in at Fire Islands’ Pines.

This electricity charged brand of entertainment is just what theater—and history—needs to excite a new generation.  After all, not everyone can get their start as a pre-teen travel writer like me.

My early hotel review should have left no doubt of my future, “We stayed at the Holiday Inn 5 min. before checking in at the Hyatt.  Lesson: Don’t judge a hotel by how tired you are! Or You can’t judge a hotel by the lobby exept (sp) if the hotel has plastic flowers.”  Now come on, those are words to live by.

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