Center Theatre Group and Les Freres Corbusier at the Public Theater
Reviewed by David Sheward
In Timbers' whacked-out book, the language is contemporary. Jackson is a spoiled rock star, slaughtering Indians as a charismatic general and then challenging the Washington aristocracy as a populist candidate. He pouts like a teenager when he doesn't get his way and erupts with fury when the Supreme Court declares his merciless Native American relocation programs unconstitutional. The Oval Office becomes a frat house as Jackson encourages female cheerleaders to make out with each other (shades of the recent Republican National Committee bondage scandal), and the show's band is enlisted as his Cabinet. "So we'll ruin the bank/And we'll cripple the courts/And we'll take on the world/For America's sake," he sings with egotistical bravado.
But this is much more than an extended "Saturday Night Live" skit. Timbers' wild script and Michael Friedman's hard-driving score make sharp points about the messy way our country was founded and grew, as well as the complexities of democratic government. "I don't think you people know what you want," Jackson yells at some White House tourists after claiming that he represents their views.
When the piece premiered in Los Angeles in January 2008, Jackson could have been seen as a 19th-century version of George W. Bush, running the national agenda like an out-of-control cowboy. Today, with the advent of the Tea Party movement, the wicked parody is even more relevant. The simplistic speeches and rock anthems to populism sound as if they could be heard at a Sarah Palin rally.