All the Way (play)
|All the Way|
Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964
|Written by||Robert Schenkkan|
|Characters||Lyndon B. Johnson
Lady Bird Johnson
Martin Luther King, Jr.
J. Edgar Hoover
|Date premiered||July 28, 2012|
|Place premiered||Oregon Shakespeare Festival|
|Series||American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle|
|Setting||Washington, D.C., Atlantic City, Mississippi, Atlanta, November 1963 to November 1964|
All the Way is a play by Robert Schenkkan, depicting President Lyndon B. Johnson's efforts to maneuver members of the 88th United States Congress to enact, and civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. to support, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The play takes its name from Johnson's 1964 campaign slogan, "All the Way with LBJ."
The play was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and premiered there in 2012, in a production directed by Bill Rauch, with Jack Willis originating the role of LBJ. It premiered on Broadway in March 2014, in a production also directed by Rauch, which won the 2014 Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. Bryan Cranston won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance.
All the Way was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) as part of its "American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle." It premiered at OSF on July 28, 2012, directed by Bill Rauch, with Jack Willis originating the role of LBJ.
The play was produced in September 2013, at the American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, directed by Rauch, with Bryan Cranston as LBJ. The ART production premiered on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre for a limited run on March 6, 2014, where it ran through until June 29, 2014.
The Broadway and ART productions starred Bryan Cranston as LBJ, and the cast included John McMartin, Betsy Aidem, Christopher Liam Moore, Robert Petkoff, Brandon J. Dirden, Michael McKean, and Bill Timoney.
The play sold out its American Repertory Theater showing, and strong sales were reported for previews of its limited Broadway run at the Neil Simon Theatre. On June 5, 2014, the producers announced that the play had recouped its $3.9 million investment in under four months.
All the Way is the first of two plays by Schenkkan on Johnson's presidency. The second part, The Great Society, premiered at the OSF on July 27, 2014. Jack Willis, who played Johnson at its Oregon premiere, again plays Johnson in The Great Society in Oregon. The sequel, also directed by Rauch, continues the Johnson story from 1964 to 1968.
The play opens shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. and continues through Johnson's landslide reelection on November 3, 1964. In his first year as president, Johnson engineers passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964. Johnson has Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota reach out to liberal congressmen and civil rights groups, while Johnson personally deals with Southern congressmen, who are deeply opposed to the legislation. At the end of Act One, the civil rights act passes the Senate, using cajolery, arm-twisting and blackmail to get his way. Johnson himself is from the south, and he is close to the recalcitrant southern congressmen, and he uses homespun and sometimes off-color stories to persuade them. A reviewer noted that "Johnson seems just to be shooting the breeze when really he's riding herd on friend and foe alike in anxious pursuit of his goals." Throughout, the play makes copious reference to congressional terminology unusual in Broadway plays, such as "cloture" and "filibuster," which are mechanisms used to extract bills from committee.
Johnson is portrayed as emotionally needy and vulnerable, even as he rides roughshod over other people such as his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, and his longtime aide Walter Jenkins, who he abandons after he is arrested on a morals charge. He is disdainful of Humphrey, and promises the vice-presidency to him in the 1964 elections if he goes along with Johnson.
Johnson engages in spirited conversations with Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, who strongly opposes the legislation but finds that his ability to stop the bill has ebbed because of Johnson's tactics.
On the other side, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. must contend with more conservative leaders such as Roy Wilkins who oppose civil rights marches and militant leaders like Stokely Carmichael, who favor strong action. The more activist leaders prevail, and launch the "Freedom Summer," in which young college students ride buses into the south to desegregate facilities. Three Freedom Riders, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, are slain, forcing Johnson to send in the FBI and further inflaming emotions. J. Edgar Hoover is shown eavesdropping on Dr. King.
In the second act, the action shifts to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where a battle is brewing at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The segregated Mississippi delegation is challenged by the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Schenkkan describes All the Way as a play about "the morality of politics and power. Where do you draw the line in terms of intentions and action. How much leeway does a good intention give you to violate the law?".
The play's set is a semi-circular dais surrounding the central portion of the stage. The New York Observer said that the surrounding seats "serve as Congressional hearing rooms, and as spots for ever-present observers to sit and watch, but mostly they render the stage a coliseum, with everything that happens a battle, or maybe a courtroom: L.B.J. is always on trial."
Unlike previous dramatic depictions of Johnson, such as Barbara Garson's satirical 1967 play MacBird!, Johnson is portrayed sympathetically. Writing in The New York Times, Sam Tanenhaus said that All the Way portrays Johnson "as something far more interesting and even inspiring: the last and perhaps greatest of all legislative presidents, with his wizardly grip on the levers of governance at a time when it was still possible for deals to be brokered and favors swapped and for combatants to clash in an atmosphere of respect, if not smiling concord."
In preparing for the role, Cranston sought to meet Robert Caro, author of a multipart biography of Johnson (The Years of Lyndon Johnson). But Caro refused, telling The New York Times: "I didn’t want to see someone playing Lyndon Johnson or talk to the actor playing him because I was afraid that image would become blurred for me. The better the actor the more danger there would be that that would happen.”
- Lyndon B. Johnson, played by Bryan Cranston
- Lady Bird Johnson/Katharine Graham, played by Betsy Aidem
- Walter Jenkins, played by Christopher Liam Moore
- Hubert Humphrey, played by Robert Petkoff
- Richard Russell, played by John McMartin
- Martin Luther King, played by Brandon J. Dirden
- J. Edgar Hoover, played by Michael McKean
- Stanley Levison/John McCormack, played by Ethan Phillips
- Karl Mundt, played by Bill Timoney
The Broadway production received generally favorable reviews, with Bryan Cranston's performance singled out for praise.
Writing in The New York Times, Charles Isherwood called All the Way a "dense but mostly absorbing drama, set during the tense first year of Johnson’s presidency following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy." Isherwood praised Cranston as Johnson, saying his "heat-generating performance galvanizes the production. Even when Johnson is offstage or the writing sags with exposition, the show, directed solidly by Bill Rauch, retains the vitalizing imprint of his performance." Other characters such as Hoover and George Wallace are "merely sketched in," and the play "sorely needs streamlining." In his review of the American Repertory Theater production, also starring Cranston, Isherwood said the play "ultimately accrues minimal dramatic momentum."
The Broadway production was called "juicy" by the Chicago Tribune, which said that Cranston "offers up a restless, hypnotically intense physicality coupled with an intimately forged vulnerability." It said that the lead actor "does not disappoint for a moment, driving the show with a truly riveting life-force and, it seems, painting every up and down in this insecure but notably self-aware president's life on his visage, which he seems to pull and stretch in limitless directions. "
Awards and nominations
All the Way received four nominations for the 2014 Outer Critics Circle Awards: Outstanding New Broadway Play, Outstanding Director Of A Play, Outstanding Actor In A Play (Bryan Cranston), and Outstanding Featured Actor In A Play (John McMartin). The play won two awards: Outstanding New Broadway Play and Outstanding Actor In A Play (Bryan Cranston).
The play received five nominations for the 2014 Drama Desk Awards: Outstanding Play; Outstanding Actor in a Play (Bryan Cranston); Outstanding Director of a Play (Bill Rauch); Outstanding Projection Design (Shawn Sagady); and Outstanding Sound Design in a Play (Paul James Prenderagst) It won the awards for Outstanding Play and Outstanding Actor in a Play.
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