Thursday, November 15, 2018

All the Way

A few years ago I saw the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of a play they'd commissioned, The Great Society by Robert Schenkkan, telling of the 1965-68 period of Lyndon Johnson's presidency in the format and manner of a Shakespearean historical tragedy. I found it an awesome play, and was sorry I'd missed their production of its predecessor, All the Way, about the first year of Johnson's presidency, 1963-64, the one that went on to a celebrated Broadway production with Bryan Cranston.

So when I saw that a local company, the Palo Alto Players, was doing All the Way, I figured I had to see it, and I just have. Well, they're not OSF, but it was pretty good. Michael Monagle doesn't look anything like LBJ - in fact none of the actors looked like the people they were playing, the Hubert Humphrey more resembling Walter Mondale, and the Ev Dirksen looking like a retired Confederate general, white beard and all - but Monagle was good with the Johnson style and at being the strong center of the cast. Some of the others, though they were all competent actors, looked a little fatigued by the intense pace in the second act. Best all-around were the scenes with the Black leaders (King, Abernathy, Wilkins, Carmichael, et al) which formed the main counterpoint to the white politicians.

Covering a much shorter period than the sequel, it's differently constructed, with less sense of the pressure of multiple events pushing down on Johnson. But it does have the same snap and quick scene changes. Thus, the first scene is set with Johnson in his seat on Air Force One flying back from Dallas. Then he stands up and delivers his first speech to Congress.

The first act is all about the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and manages to say more about the political maneuverings that got it past various hurdles than does Robert Caro's biography of that period of Johnson's life. This is, alas, more an indictment of Caro than a praise of the play.

The second act is on the 1964 presidential election, and has a weirdly sour feel as the play depicts Johnson consistently on the verge of losing to Goldwater (who never appears on stage), which is not at all how the election played out.

It was consistently gripping, and I'm glad I saw it. It's on through this Sunday, so locals can still go.

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