Portland Theatre Scene


August 3, 2014

It’s November 1964 and Lyndon Baines Johnson has just won a landslide (re-) election over sun belt neocon Barry Goldwater. The victory stokes Johnson’s confidence and appears to signal popular support for the raft of social programs and initiatives the 36th president inherited from Kennedy, chief of which was the recently enacted 1964 Civil Rights Act (stripped of its crucial voting rights component). As 1965 dawns, LBJ moves full steam ahead toward the next item on his to do list, which is the War on Poverty, to be followed (at some point) by the Voting Rights Act. And then, as Johnson may have told it in his hill country, down home Texan delivery, the proverbial doodoo started to clog up the chicken house fan. Over the next few years, when America truly seemed to be falling apart, Johnson found his legislative agenda caught in a tug of war between southern Democrats (soon to flee the party), northern liberals, and the growing power of organized black American groups. Meanwhile the American attack on Viet Nam was heating up, which limited available funds for other programs and also guaranteed that millions of middle class college students, still subject to the draft, were going to get deeply involved in active protest on numerous fronts. In short, it was a perfect storm of conditions to bring important, simmering national conflicts to a head and drive millions of people into the political forum in a way they had never experienced before. Welcome to the 1960’s. We hope you enjoy your stay.

Seattle Times


July 28, 2014

Robert Schenkkan’s Tony Award-honored play All the Way ends with President Lyndon Baines Johnson triumphant. He has inspired and demanded, threatened and cajoled Congress to get a landmark civil-rights bill passed. And in his election to the post he inherited in 1963 from his assassinated predecessor, John F. Kennedy, the liberal Johnson has crushed conservative Republican contender Sen. Barry Goldwater. But in The Great Society, the second half of Schenkkan’s panoramic, instructive and generally enthralling LBJ saga (which opened Sunday at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival), civil disruptions at home and a war abroad cut short LBJ’s victory lap. And his steep fall from grace after many progressive achievements links to a troubling current dilemma: With entrenched, competing internal and international agendas and tectonic political divisions, is our nation governable? And if so, by what kind of leader? Schenkkan, the Seattle writer who walked away from this year’s Tony Awards with a best-new-play win, embodies that overarching theme in the complex character and momentous single term of one of our most effectual and yet maligned modern presidents.

La Times


August 2, 2014

When last seen in Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way, Lyndon B. Johnson was being serenaded with “Happy Days Are Here Again.” After brokering the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with an iron fist and a good ol’ boy smile, he managed to escape electoral backlash and trounce Barry Goldwater in the presidential election. The Great Society, the second part of Schenkkan’s epic drama about Johnson’s presidency, picks up where All the Way left off. The crowd is still chanting, “All the way with LBJ,” but Johnson, that experienced political animal, wears a furrowed brow. He knows that no matter how sweet victory may be, in politics there’s something even sweeter but much more elusive: survival with one’s principles intact. The play, which is having its world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where All the Way began, also under the direction of OSF artistic director Bill Rauch, is the conclusion of a project that on paper might seem to be exclusively for American history buffs and political junkies. A two-part, 61/2-hour retelling of Johnson’s presidency doesn’t exactly scream box office, but All the Way proved doubters wrong by becoming a bona fide Broadway hit and winning the Tony for best play (no matter that it was a depleted field).


August 18, 2014

“Christ, I feel like a catfish that’s bit a big juicy worm only to find a right sharp hook in the middle of it,” says Lyndon B. Johnson in The Great Society, the second part of Robert Schenkkan’s sprawling dramatization of Johnson’s tumultuous years in the White House. As the play opens, Johnson has just been elected to a full presidential term, but there’s no time for a celebratory fishing trip, because he’s already facing a full slate of problems. Mr. Schenkkan’s historical drama is making its premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where the first part, All the Way, made its debut two seasons ago before ultimately moving to Broadway, having acquired Bryan Cranston in the central role. It took home Tony Awards for both Mr. Cranston’s lead performance and best play. The Great Society, which features an effective if less ferocious performance by Jack Willis as Johnson (he originated the role in All the Way here), picks up where the first installment left off. Johnson has secured the mandate of a big presidential win, and with his foot firmly on the gas pedal, begins pushing through Congress a mighty pile of legislation that he believes will reshape the country along the ideals enshrined in its Constitution.