Playing President Lyndon B. Johnson, Bryan Cranston brilliantly captures that president’s tireless energy and ruthless political gamesmanship in this drama about the events between LBJ’s swearing-in as President following Kennedy’s assassination, and his actual election as president around a year later, with a very strong focus on Johnson’s commitment to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, including a contentious ongoing dialogue with Martin Luther King.
All the Way has the heft of a Shakespeare history play, which is unsurprising given the play’s origin as a commission from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Cranston’s towering performance as LBJ is the real heart of this production, an electrifying portrait of an immensely complex man. Cranston completely disappears into the role, successfully portraying the many, many different sides of LBJ. The ever-estimable Michael McKean also makes a considerable impression as J. Edgar Hoover, and Chistopher Liam Moore is surprisingly affecting as LBJ’s closeted aide Walter Jenkins.
Director Bill Rauch deftly arranges the frequent shifts in locale and mood with deceptive simplicity. That deceptive simplicity is shared by Christopher Acebo’s set: we first see a straightforward representation of a Congressional hearing room, that subtly transforms into dozens of locales. It also helps that Playwright Robert Schenkkan successfully conveys a strong sense of time, place and stakes in every line of his jazzy dialogue.
All The Way is an exciting piece of history brought to vibrant life by a subtle and smart creative team. Recommended.
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