The address on their web site may be old, and ushers may be uncertain about the seating chart, but that didn’t stop champagne corks from flying as the theatre community celebrated both the tenth anniversary of the San Francisco Playhouse, and its move to a bigger venue on the second floor of the Kensington Park Hotel on Post Street.
Pre-show buzz for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was heightened by the presence of Willie Brown with (of course) a luscious lady on each arm.
The expansive Brown (regardless of politics, I miss this guy’s act), always known for a absurdly bon mot, explained that his real ambition, even throughout his various public offices, was acting. He observed this was common ambition for politicians, which explains a lot, when you think about it. Invoking the spirit of Herb Caen, he noted the SF Playhouse (now renamed San Francisco Playhouse because, as co-founder Susi Damilano noted, “we’re grown up now.”) was what the city is all about. Mayor Ed Yee was hardly outdone by the voluble Brown, and proffered in absentia a proclamation to the effect that Saturday October 13 was San Francisco Playhouse Day.
The catch, of course, is that whatever followed all this buildup would have to be stupendous – and the beginning of Bloody, Bloody was uneven at best.
Opening with “Populism, Yeah, Yeah,” the group seemed to be driving for an American Idiot kind of rage, but since the intensity came out of the blue with no motivation, the rage came off as wasted adolescent energy. Moreover, any thinking person couldn’t help cynically observing that what passes for modern populism is little more than a well-funded scam. Koch Brothers anyone? Given that the beginning of this play is rife with lines like “I’m Andrew fucking Jackson and my life sucks in particular” aren’t even funny, you’re left wondering whether there’s anything that can be done with a very bad script.
Fortunately, the cast got their sea legs with this material, and got better and better as the evening progressed.
The first indication that the performance was turning was the well-choreographed fight scene. Lines in the song “Illness as a Metaphor” (“Susan Sontag’s dead. I guess illness isn’t a metaphor”) came off as smart and funny.
By the time Andrew Jackson sang “I’m so that guy,” one wished that Romney or Obama had Davaran’s kind of energy.
Other high points include insouciant Martin Van Buren, played by Michael Barrett Austin, and John Quincy Adams (Olive Mitra). Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of James Smith-Wallis, who played AJ’s adopted son Lyncoya.
Given that pre-show hype and first night nerves won’t be an issue for subsequent shows, I’m hopeful about the rest of the run, particularly since the San Francisco Playhouse has consistently delivered one gem after another. However, it’s hard to separate the content of this one from the current campaign mishegoss.
The campaigning Andrew Jackson is as overblown as any other candidate, with little to redeem him except for a mildly interesting hyper-confidence. If you’re about to OD on ugly politics, you might want to take a pass on this one.