Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

This weekend while in Cincinnati visiting family, David and I went to see a really fun show at the Know Theatre. Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson tells the life story of our country’s seventh president, in a musical, comedic, in-your-face-with-history’s-ugliness kind of way. The main conflict is about the Indian Removal Act, which resulted in the “Trail of Tears” and the deaths of thousands. The show’s style was punk rock meets the Daily Show–modern steam-punk hipster costumes with singing and lots of jokes. Some of the best jokes involved Jackson whining like a three-year-old to get his way, and taking control of his narrative in a very meta way by shooting the obnoxious narrator character.

As you can guess, many of the show’s criticisms of Jackson and the politicians of his day are relevant to today’s Washington scene. There are at least two direct visual references to Bush and Obama; the “populism” song and sentiments seem to echo (or prefigure) the Occupy movement; and the portrayal of the “back room deal” that cost Jackson his first run at the presidency reminded me of 2000’s election.

The only criticism I feel I can make of the show was the star’s weak voice. As good as he looked in tight pants, he didn’t quite have the range or strength his role called for. The show made me wish I knew more about the Andrew Jackson and that time period in history, and that’s a feeling I like to have at the end of something.

I hope this show comes to Nashville someday. As a hometown hero from almost two centuries ago, he’s kind of venerated here, and people don’t really think about his legacy of genocide. Several important buildings and streets are named after Jackson. His plantation is a historic site we’ve visited, and I will say that the presentation of history at The Hermitage is as inclusive as it can be, telling the story of Jackson’s slaves with almost equal importance to his own family’s story, and pointing out that there’s no such thing as a “good” slave owner. The show told an important historic story in an entertaining, irreverent way; it’s the kind of thing I’d like to bring students to see.

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Nevermore

David and I had a great time at the Nashville Public Library last night watching “Nevermore,” a one-man play about Edgar Allan Poe. Jeffrey Combs starred. It was also a very appropriate date for the show: yesterday was Poe’s 202nd birthday.

The show began with an abridged version of “The Telltale Heart,” which made it clear how funny that story actually is, with the narrator going on about how he’s not insane because he planned the murder so carefully. “Poe” explained his aesthetic philosophy and insulted Longfellow and Washington Irving (the “Headless Author”).  “Annabel Lee,” “The Bells,” and two other poems I didn’t recognize were also included. Throughout, he kept taking nips from his hip flask of whiskey, until he was rip-roaring drunk: impressive and hilarious physical comedy resulted. Poe’s character was revealed to be a complex mix of self-pity and arrogance; his complaints about poverty and under-appreciation led to more general statements showing a truly bleak outlook on life (big surprise, right?). The finale was of course “The Raven,” then he recited “A Dream Within a Dream” lit only by a candle as a kind of encore and farewell.

I was so impressed with Jeffrey Combs’s acting. (I’d never heard of him, but apparently he’s been on Star Trek and a lot of sci-fi and horror movies.) A one-man show must be the scariest thing an actor can ever do, but Combs more than pulled it off. He held us rapt with attention even when he spent minutes just staring at a dried flower, absorbed in memory. The range he showed in this show, blending the tragic and comic, the physical with the cerebral and emotional, on top of the pure vocal acrobatics, were in themselves the signs of a master actor. And he did the best improvised cell-phone scolding I’ve ever seen. Just after a line about forgiveness, a phone rang. He said, “And I forgive you, sir, you and your infernal contraption.”

Happy Birthday, Poe!

Nevermore, an evening with Edgar Allan Poe at the Nashville Public Library

This evening I’ll be attending a one-man show called “Nevermore” showing at 7 at the downtown library. Here’s the description, copied from the library’s website:

A one-man play by film and television star Jeffrey Combs

Jeffrey Combs will be performing as the brilliant but tragic poet and storyteller Edgar Allan Poe in honor of the bicentennial of the author’s birth. He will recite Poe’s most famous poem The Raven as well as other selections including The Tell–tale Heart and Annabel Lee. 

Director Stuart Gordon says “Nevermore is our attempt to recreate the public recitals that Edgar Allan Poe presented during the last few years of his much-too-short life.” The play, written by Dennis Paoli, is set in 1848, a year after the death of Poe’s wife Virginia, and a just year before his own death in October 1849.

Jeffrey Combs has appeared in over 75 stage productions during his career and starred in over 50 films, including the cult classic Re-Animator and The Frighteners. Combs television work includes three different recurring roles within Star Trek franchise.

Reception with light refreshments begins at 6:15 p.m. Performance begins at 7:00 p.m. Please note, there will be no intermission during the performance.

  • Ticket distribution – 5:45 p.m.
  • Reception – 6:15 p.m.
  • Performance – 7 p.m. to about 9 p.m. THERE IS NO INTERMISSION.

Events like this are just one of the many reasons I love libraries.