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Theater PopWrapped | Theater

Bryan Cranston Shines "All The Way" As Lyndon B. Johnson v2

PopWrapped | PopWrapped Author


10/10/2013 7:49 pm
PopWrapped | Theater
Bryan Cranston Shines
Media Courtesy of American Repertory Theater

Jamie Harsip

Content Editor

Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing the American Repertory Theater’s production of Robert Shenkkan’s All The Way, which chronicles the first year of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. It begins just after JFK was assassinated and focuses primarily on the process that led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Aside from Johnson himself, the show is filled to the brim with names you should recognize from your US history classes – Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, J. Edgar Hoover, and quite a few more. The good news is you don’t necessarily need to remember your US history class in order to understand and enjoy All The Way.   Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Argo) stars as the ambitious (and evidently foul-mouthed) Lyndon B. Johnson. Aside from a couple of bungled lines, I would say Cranston did the part justice. It was evidenced from his time starring in AMC’s Breaking Bad that Bryan Cranston could occupy and transform into a character as few other actors can. This, I am happy to say, carries over to live theater as well. From the moment the lights come up until the moment he takes his bow, Cranston is totally immersed in his character, allowing for a near-complete dissociation between character and performer that is only rarely achieved by even the most talented A-list actors.   It is my hope that, as this play gears up for its Broadway debut, publicity includes more than a singular focus on Bryan Cranston’s playing Lyndon Johnson, because All The Way is so much more than that. Yes, Johnson is the focus of the play, but he is by no means the sole central figure. Martin Luther King, Jr., plays a huge role in All The Way. Thus far Cranston is the only actor confirmed for the play’s move to Broadway, so we’ll have to wait and see if there’s any change made to the way it is promoted. I don’t expect it would be out of the question for the production to bring in a bigger name to take on the role of King, if only to give more weight to the character. The first act of the show is essential an active political drama – that is to say, the action and conflict is largely, if not entirely, contained in a setting of policy-making. The focus is on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Johnson’s many hurdles in getting it passed. As for LBJ himself, he begins his presidency as a confident, exuberant, and ambitious bulldozer of a man, single-mindedly advancing the civil rights agenda with sheer political muscle.   As the story unfolds and Johnson’s opposition advances, it takes a darker turn. The magnitude of what Johnson is up against in his quest to make history, both in his fight for civil rights and his ruthless campaign for re-election, becomes clear, and it begins to wear on him. Ultimately, All The Way is essentially a good history lesson brought to life by some talented actors and crew members. Schenkkan’s play leaves a good deal to be desired in terms of character development and plot crescendos, to be sure – an inescapable flaw in a story that seeks to cover so much in just three hours - but what the source material lacks in substance, the American Repertory Theater has made up for with passion and creativity. It remains to be seen whether All The Way has the momentum and power to survive on Broadway, but I would say it stands a decent chance. [gallery ids="4578,4579,4580,4581,4582,4583"]


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