Regional Theater Review: ALL THE WAY (South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa)

Post image for Regional Theater Review: ALL THE WAY (South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa)

by Tony Frankel on September 12, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Sick of politics? Miss the days when strongarm politicians got things done with blackmail, threats, and tit-for-tat backroom deals? Well, politics are exciting and inspiring again in Robert Schenkkan’s 2012 All the Way, which opened last weekend at South Coast Rep. The 3-hour docudrama begins on the day of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s inauguration following JFK’s assassination and ends on the night of his triumphant reelection in 1964. The main thrust is the “accidental president” and his effort to manipulate, er, maneuver members of the 88th Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act. (The title takes its name from Johnson’s ’64 campaign slogan, “All the Way with LBJ.”)

Nike Doukas and Hugo Armstrong in SCR's 2016 production of ALL T

Schenkkan (Pulitzer prize-winner for one of my favorite plays, The Kentucky Cycle) doesn’t offer the most imaginative retelling. It’s a blow-by-blow account which strangely enough does not add very much to our understanding of the Johnson years or the fight for Civil Rights. (Schenkkan followed All the Way with The Great Society, which centers on LBJ’s first full term). By sheer coincidence, I recently watched a two-part episode of the documentary history series American Experience; made in 1991, LBJ is a fascinating journey about our 36th POTUS and does a much better job at fleshing out Johnson’s motivations.

Hugo Armstrong and JD Cullum in SCR's 2016 production of ALL THE

What we get here is a front row seat to the machinery of politics in one of the most turbulent decades in American history, a decade from which our overturned ideals have yet to recover. Johnson’s may have been one of the most towering, tragic, and troubled presidencies in our history, and it’s important to be reminded of his accomplishments and his fallacies (apparently, the lesson about invading countries without provocation has gone unheeded). Along the way, we meet some of the greatest minds, and certainly the most fascinating characters, of the 1960s.

Jordan Bellow, Larry Bates and Gregg Daniel in SCR's 2016 produc

Among them are Lady Bird (Nike Doukas), Martin Luther King, Jr. (Larry Bates), Sen. Hubert Humphrey (JD Cullum), Strom Thurmond (Hal Landon, Jr.), Robert McNamara (Bo Foxworth), George Wallace (Jeff Marlow) and J. Edgar Hoover (Robert Curtis Brown). Add to that wives, secretaries, cronies, reporters, activists and more. The majority of the 18 splendid actors play multiple roles (some are tributes, some look remarkably like their true-life characters) with Hugo Armstrong persuasively chomping the neoclassical scenery as LBJ.

Gregg Daniel, Tracey A. Leight, Christian Henley and Rosney Maug

But all the bugging, adultery, racism, murder, and startling revelations can’t disguise this as a mere fact-driven approach to a multi-faceted man and his times. As such, the evening can get a bit draggy even as it remains wholly fascinating. A perfect example: Too much time is spent on the bedraggled, paranoid Johnson worrying about the 1964 election results when we know he will win by a landslide (486 electoral votes to Goldwater’s 52). Still, a highly recommended affair. Also, a generous “thanks” to SCR for bringing a large cast and sprawling narrative to the stage. It’s quite refreshing after so many 90-minute, 4-character plays.

Darin Singleton, Hugo Armstrong and JD Cullum in SCR's 2016 prod

photos by Ben Horak

All the Way
South Coast Repertory
655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa
ends on October 2, 2016
for tickets, call 714.708.5555 visit SCR

Comments on this entry are closed.