Shannon O’Connor ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor-In-Chief
History comes to life in the the American Repertory Theater’s latest production, All The Way.
Times are crazy; John F. Kennedy has been shot and killed, the Civil Rights Movement is in full swing and former Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson is thrust into presidency determined to be a great leader amidst the chaos.
The first half of the wildly entertaining and politically heated three hour production is focused on LBJ’s ruthless adamancy to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Audiences get a front row seat to watch a stellar retelling of history, with detailed depictions of the president’s frequent conversations with Martin Luther King Jr. and his own colleagues, especially his future Vice President Hubert Humphrey. As the first act winds to a close, LBJ finds that after battling his sanity and his own party in a near undefeatable filibuster, the bill passes into law.
The second half of the play puts his run for President of the United States in the 1964 presidential election in the limelight. While the focus has shifted from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Movement still plays a pertinent role in the successive half. Once again audiences are thrust into the hot political action and turmoil that played a prominent role in the 1964 presidential election. And again the stress of both the office and the election come center stage until the final seconds of the production when LBJ is announced as the 36th President of the United States of America.
Often productions with political centric plots have difficulty obtaining the audience’s full attention for the show’s length, but that is not case with All The Way. The play captivates audiences from the second the first monologue begins until the cast takes their final bow.
The phenomenal cast has much to do with the captivating nature of the production. Lead by Emmy Award Winner Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) with a tour-de-force performance as the long overlooked, yet passionate 36th President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson. Cranston brings Johnson to life like never before seen; raw and uncensored Cranston’s LBJ provides the play with humor, heartbreak and pure passion.
Other notable performances are those of Reed Birney and Brandon J. Dirden. Birney brings passion, understanding and sympathy to the production with his heartfelt portrayal of the often leaned upon Hubert Humphrey. With his quiet and peaceful demeanor, Dirden perfectly captures the Martin Luther King Jr. we always learn about, however the audience soon begins to learn the unsavory parts of King’s past that no history book teaches. King is sincerely brought to life by Dirden, who portrays the historical figure with a genuine passion and drive for social justice.
All The Way is laugh-out-loud funny, heartbreaking and thought-provoking, but most of all it is incredibly entertaining.
All The Way runs until October 12 at the American Repertory Theater, however as the show is sold out only standing room and patron seats are available.