Review of All The Way

All the Way playbill cover (Image source: Playbill.com)

All the Way playbill cover (Image source: Playbill.com)

When Jackie Kennedy called Lyndon Baines Johnson a, “Cowboy Oaf,” she simplified a man who may have appeared simple to others, like a good ole boy from the south, but was, in fact, manipulative, two faced, complicated, calculating, and a pro-active 1960′s era male politician. Lyndon Baines Johnson got the job done, no matter what the cost.

If this sounds anything like Kevin Spaceys’ character, Frank Underwood in House of Cards, maybe that’s because it, “ain’t personal, it’s politics,” as Bryan Cranston reminds us in the lead role of L. B. J. in All The Way by Robert Schenkkan.

The 2 hour and 50 minute play has been described by some reviewers as being too long, or lagging in the second half, and other reviewers call it perfectly paced.  I did not feel it was too long, or that it lagged in any way. The cast of many moved about the stage as if their steps were choreographed all around Christopher Acebo’s fantastic set. Timing is everything in this play. From lines to steps, no one is out of sync.

In what must be a physically and mentally draining performance, Cranston transforms his face, voice, and physical carriage into a pot bellied, high waist-ed, wrinkle-faced, insecure screaming-bully of a man who tells each congressman, activist, and character in his life what he needs to tell them in order to get them to do his bidding.

Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Baines Johnson in All The Way (Image Source: Playbill.com)

Michael McKean as J. Edgar Hoover and Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Baines Johnson with Christopher Liam Moore as Walter Jenkins in All The Way (Image Source: Playbill.com)

What is the point of reviving a story from 1964? What is its relevancy today? Is it timely? Newsworthy? The answer lies in the universality of human rights.

All The Way starts with J.F. Kennedy’s assassination, whereby L.B. Johnson becomes the “accidental president,” and leads us up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and LBJ’s election.

The universality and relevancy to today’s societal issues are paralleled perfectly with a statement made by a congressman who wanted to amend the Civil Rights Act. He said that  if a white man walks into a chiropodist in Mississippi to have a bunion removed, he has the right to know if a Negro was sitting in the chair before he was, and that the chiropodist handled Negro feet. The first thing I thought of when I heard this line was its similarity to the February 2014 Arizona legislature which permits businesses to refuse services to gay people. Timely, relevant, and universal? Absolutely.

The way LBJ speaks to Lady Bird Johnson, his wife, makes the audience squirm in their seats. The 1960′s was a time when political wives silently endured their husband’s extra marital affairs. Hang on though, wasn’t there a president since 1968 who had extra-marital affairs and who is still with his wife? “It ain’t personal, it’s politics.”

The cast is brilliant and there is no such thing as a small role. Watch Christopher Liam Moore’s character very closely. It is a reminder that in politics, sometimes even the most dutiful must be sacrificed.

If LBJ urged J. Edgar Hoover to turn a blind eye to Doctor Martin Luther King Junior’s  amorous liaisons caught on audio tape, and Hoover could bury an incident in Johnson’s past, it makes you wonder why Walter Jenkins’ behavior transitioned his role from “like a son” to LBJ to becoming the sacrificial lamb. Then again, we’re talking about the 1960′s here, aren’t we? “It ain’t personal, it’s politics.”

"All the way with LBJ!" (Picture via Broadway.com)

“All the way with LBJ!” (Picture via Allthewaybroadway.com)

All the way with LBJ!” The Democratic Party’s slogan for the 1964 presidential election promised change and equality. Can we draw comparisons to the current political climate? “Yes we can!”

This play is beyond “timely” in its examination of equality and basic human rights issues. Even in 2014, All The Way reminds us that some are more equal than others.

All the Way is playing at the Neil Simon Theater in New York until June 29.

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6 thoughts on “Review of All The Way

  1. Pingback: Review of All The Way | I am an Author, I Must Auth

  2. LBJ is a very interesting person–got us embroiled in VietNam but also declared a War On Poverty. Bud Hammond in the series “Political Animals” (with Ciarán Hinds and Sigourney Weaver) was based partly on him and partly on Clinton. Another philanderer, but with lots of depth to his character…

    • Like an onion, lots of layers! The only redeeming part of this play was when LBJ reminisced about teaching first grade, children of Mexican immigrants, I think he said, and how it was sad to see their enthusiasm wane. That was sad to hear, but good to hear because he saw them as little innocent things ready to learn, coming to school bright eyed and eager. The failure to connect the dots between his empathy for those children of Mexican immigrants, and recognizing their basic right to education, and the right for Walter Jenkins to be a homosexual was jolting. Basic rights, it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. And it was the 1960s. Thanks for reading and commenting Linnet!

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