Scotch‘n’Soda delivers electric performance
Weird, scary, and uproariously funny (especially at 11 p.m. on a Friday), Carnegie Mellon’s Scotch‘n’Soda performed Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in the Jared L. Cohon University Center’s McConomy Auditorium over Halloweekend.
The opening number sets just the right off-kilter tone for the evening. The ensemble sings about political populism wearing all the components of 19th century garb, assembled in a punk rock fashion: Corsets are donned over dresses, dresses are cropped and shirt sleeves are rolled up to the elbow. The band itself doesn’t even play along with this 19th century front, wearing t-shirts and skinny jeans and rocking electric/acoustic guitar, bass, and keyboard. Modern cuss words and characters, including a spirited history nerd played by undeclared Dietrich College first year Anna Jamieson Beck as narrator, are sprinkled throughout the play, keeping the level of absurdity high throughout.
Beck is just one of many strong supporting roles, several of which are played by a few prominent ensemble cast members. The talent of the overall ensemble was evident in the numerous high-energy song and group dance numbers. Additionally, the ensemble was versatile, able to switch between multiple roles throughout. Whether it was the American punk rock groupies, the Indian tribe members, or the modern tourists, they brought the right tone to each.
After the opening number, the play begins with Jackson’s childhood, though the actors, characters, and costumes hardly change with the exception of a few indicative props (e.g. slinky indicates childhood). Junior logic and computation major Tim Brooks plays the controversial Andrew Jackson who, in this universe, wears tight leather pants and a white t-shirt. The costume hardly makes sense in this childhood scene, where both of Jackson’s parents are killed suddenly by “Injuns.” However, the following scene resolves the contradictory cues by finding Jackson in a bar, standing drunkenly on top of a table to tell his friends about the “valiant” battle that he lead against the Spaniards in Florida. The audience learns quickly that Jackson is a nontraditional hero.
Soon after, Jackson’s future wife, Rachel — played by Rachel Griswold, an undeclared first year in Dietrich College — is introduced. However, even a love interest doesn’t humanize Jackson for more than a few minutes as their relationship turns from cute to downright disgusting. To highlight and poke fun at the darkness of their relationship, the band begins to play sickeningly sweet and upbeat pop while the explicit scene continues in the background. Rachel is opposed to Jackson’s status as a public figure, causing tension in their relationship as he tries to usurp the power from the elitist group ruling over Washington, including figures like John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, and John Calhoun, played by 5th year senior BSA major Alex Petti, undeclared Dietrich College first year Philip DeCicco, and undeclared Dietrich College first year Jordan Romah respectively. These characters are no less ridiculous than the ones before them. Their debut is choreographed to the musical stylings of Katy Perry, which is both hilarious and in perfect opposition to the stark individualism of the punk rock movement.
Jackson runs for the presidency twice, where he succeeds the second time after being beaten by John Quincy Adams in the first. The race features a spectacular musical battle between the two candidates as they communicate political ideologies via punk rock sentiments, complete with modern colloquialisms. When Jackson finally takes on his role as president, he finds himself disillusioned by the contradictory attitudes of the American people. They want land, but they don’t want to drive out the native tribes. They need space, but don’t want any bloodshed. While frustrating for Jackson, it was equally frustrating to the 11 p.m. audience, whom frequently jumped out of their seats to either cheer on or ridicule decisions that are made on stage.
Although mostly in jest, the play moves its audience in unexpected ways. Surprisingly, equal to the conflict between characters is the conflict that the audience feels with the characters. The appalling racism of Jackson and others feels archaic and callous. The audience, while laughing at the ridiculous and playful script, is also aware of the painful truth behind the words. The production leverages this poignancy on multiple occasions including the performances for “Ten Little Indians,” a song inspired by the poem written by Septimus Winner in 1868, and an ending scene where the cast is positioned and frozen to visually portray the horrifying Trail of Tears. In these moments, there is no humor, the strange punk rock setting becomes unimportant, and all that we can focus on is the horror of this undeniable historical tragedy.
Ultimately, Scotch’n’Soda’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson led to an evening of bloody merriment punctuated by moments of sincere drama. The energy was electric and the audience certainly got what they asked for as they spent an evening this Halloweekend immersed in a violent and satirical reality.