AS I WRITE this, my Facebook news feed is brimming with outrage over the Gap's decision to release a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "Manifest Destiny." The phrase has an aspirational, go-West-young-man catchiness that doubtlessly appealed to the shirt's designers, but it's also basically shorthand for genocide: It exemplifies the sense of entitlement that drove Westward expansion in the 1800s, at the expense of Native American lives and lands. People are understandably upset to see it emblazoned on a T-shirt.
But Portland Playhouse should pick up one of the shirts before they're recalled, because it'd be the perfect attire for the conflicted, aggrandizing (and, yes, genocidal) presidential personality at the heart of the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. This Andrew Jackson, played by Seattle's Logan Benedict, is a rock star, a self-serious, self-mythologizing people's president in skinny jeans (they could be tighter) and floppy emo hair. "I'm gonna fucking shit all over you guys with my brand of maverick, egalitarian democracy," he declares, and the people love it; this fictionalized account of Jackson's life is backed by a cast of costume-swapping men and scantily clad women who shift in and out of supporting roles, from Jason Rouse's Twinkie-scarfing Martin Van Buren to Jared Miller's brooding Black Fox, a fictionalized Native American who sold out his people to feed Jackson's expansionism. (There's no particular adherence to the letter of history, nor need there be—it is, after all, written by the winners.)
It's a fantastic script, full of pointed reference to the shallowness of our political discourse, but Portland Playhouse's uneven production suffers in striking a balance between comedy, musical spectacle, and legitimate historical tragedy. This show gets a lot of comedic mileage from the winking diffidence of its actors ("Hey boys, can you believe we're up here putting on a show?"), which makes it hard to credit a last-ditch effort to earnestly connect with the audience ("Oh right, about those Indians we massacred...."). Scenes that are played straight—like Jackson's fights with his wife over whether or not he should run for president—are out of step with the rest of the show. At least the jokes land, though, thanks to a cast studded with experienced sketch comedy performers; in particular, strong, funny turns from Darius Pierce, Sean McGrath, and John San Nicolas.