With a presidential election looming on the horizon, it’s difficult to turn to any source of media and not be bombarded with statistics and debates, slogans and endorsements. While diffusing political fervor has changed in recent decades, the fervor has not. Civil and domestic issues continue to permeate the public consciences. In some cases, the passing of 50 years has barely removed us from the fierce urgency of now. A perfect time for Players By The Sea to present All The Way, which finishes its run this weekend. Check after the jump for the details
Each generation has at least one defining tragic event that plants itself firmly in hearts and history books. For many currently, it is 9/11. For others, it is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. This cataclysmic event sent Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson into the Oval Office amidst the mourning and turmoil sweeping the nation. And so begins All The Way, written by Robert Schenkkan and only two years removed from its Tony-winning run on Broadway (http://www.playbill.com/article/tony-winning-hit-all-the-way-starring-bryan-cranston-ends-broadway-run-com-322945).
The play follows LBJ’s rise to power and the challenges he faces while trying to prove himself and unite a nation suffering from civil unrest during the remaining 11 months of the current presidential term. Owing much to its minimalistic but evocative set designed by Joe Schwarz and assembled through efforts guide by Jereme Raickett and Katie Dawson, the production boasts seamless transitions through time and space to move along at a steady pace with building momentum. Phone conversations and other parallel events play out on-stage simultaneously, and the formidable pillars framing the stage create the feel of a colosseum. Apropos, as numerous characters relate to the idea of politics as war. Director Jean Rahner provides an ever-changing milieu that keeps the audience engrossed. The dynamic composition is enhanced by the lighting designed by Jim Wiggins. A projection screen, manned by Orlando Jarquin, utilizes the space with real-life pictures of the characters on stage, while Erik Anderson’s sound design and the costumes of Gayle Featheringille and Jane LaRoque bring the era to life.
LBJ is portrayed by the ubiquitous, dramatic-chameleon Bill Ratliff. On stage for the majority of the two-hours-plus run time, Ratliff tirelessly balances LBJ’s well-known, caustic candor and fiery will with the closed-door vulnerability and neediness that reveal a man believing everyone is against him. Ratliff manages to humanize this larger-than-life historical figure--an essential piece in keeping the audience engaged throughout the throes of a political maelstrom.
Playing a man also caught between his moralistic principles and his duties to the public is David Girard as Martin Luther King, Jr. Whereas Ratliff’s LBJ is prone to externalizing his inner conflict, Girard keeps MLK’s buried beneath a gentle but firm demeanor. Girard’s performance is one of stunning presence over showmanship, continually reining in attention with stillness and an even tone. This makes for palpable and entertaining interplay during LBJ and MLK’s heavy conversations.
One of the tougher jobs for this production is to utilize a hefty script filled with historically accurate source material and keep the audience engaged through the labyrinth of political lingo and situations. Thankfully, this cast of 20, playing 40-plus characters, soldiers through the quickly shifting scenes with vigor and clear diction.
In LBJ’s court there is a state of constant duress. Luckily, each of the actors does a serviceably job of creating interactions that range from heartbreaking to one-upmanship.
Gloria Ware, really gave warmth and strength to Lady Bird Johnson, believable as the rock bearing her husband’s rageful and defeated moments.
Paul Rowe as Hubert Humphrey, manages to find a likeable resiliency in the moments of his Ratliff's verbal beatings.
Joseph Stearman’s Walter Jenkins portrays a sense of calm that rarely draws away focus--until events allow the actor to present both physical and emotional vulnerability.
David Horne expertly layers on Machiavellian tendencies as J. Edgar Hoover, alternately buddying up and deceiving LBJ, playing the dramatic irony to full effect.
Dave Gowan playing Richard Russell, adeptly shifting between mentor and nemesis of LBJ.
In MLK’s cabinet are: Larry Knight’s emotionally transparent portrayal of close friend and mentor, Ralph Abernathy;
Rhodie Jack as Coretta Scott King, grounded and steadfast through her husband’s ascension of influence,even as her insides are clearly conflicted;
Milton Threadcraft III as the impassioned and assertive Roy Wilkins;
Michael Bostic-Jones and Jonathan Washington, roles as Roy Wilkins, Bob Moses, and Stokely Carmichael respectively, allow for sudden bursts of desperation and indignation, all fighting for the same thing but drawing the audience in to each other their differing methods of action.
Paul Heck rounds out the group with the contrasting reticent but supportive presence as a fellow clergyman.
Playing an assortment of politicians and other parts of the ensemble are
Mark Wright, who gives nuance to four different roles;
Allen Morton --also alternating through quadruple casting --- makes the most of presidential runner George Wallace with southern charm and snideness;
Susan Roth as the cheerful and dutiful wives to both Humphrey and Wallace;
Bob Schellenberger, defiant and threatening in his roles; Larry Fairall, with his ear-catching diction;
Donna Banks, subtle and informative.
While the majority of these roles are written to be more informative than dynamic (except perhaps Morton’s presidential-running George Wallace, entertaining with the southern charm and snideness), these actors are the well-oiled machine that brings cohesion to the story and presents the exposition needed to move the audience along on this historically factual and dense journey. Also, some of the more visually interesting moments are displayed by this group during pseudo-scenes set on the Congressional floor, as well as the announcements of the election’s progress.
As an audience member, if you’re too young to remember the events of LBJ’s campaign and the fight for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it will help to do some research, as this play is basically a dramatic clockwork of the various speeches and characters of the times. Despite this, the cast and crew at Players carry this daunting show and find thrills and dramatic through-lines throughout this historical epic.
text by Cameron Pfahler
images by Bradley Akers
All The Way
Written by Robert Schenkkan
Directed by Jean Rahner
Thursday - Saturday Curtain at 8:00pm
Sunday Curtain* at 2:00pm
April 22, 23, 28, 29, 30
May 1*, 5, 6, 7
General Admission: $23.00
Thursday Nights are Student Nights: 1/2 Price Tix at the Door with a Valid Student I.D.
904.249.0289 | www.playersbythesea.org
Lyndon B. Johnson: Bill Ratliff
Lady Bird Johnson: Gloria Ware
Martin Luther King, Jr: David Girard
Ralph Abernathy: Larry Knight
Coretta Scott King/Fannie Lou Hamer: Rhodie Jackson
Hubert Humphrey/Strom Thurmond: Paul Rowe
Muriel Humphrey/Lurleen Wallace: Susan Roth
Richard Russel: Dave Gowan
Walter Jenkins/William Colmer: Joseph Stearman
J. Edgar Hoover/Byrd: David Horne
Stokely Carmichael/James Harrison: Jonathan Washington
Bob Moses/Dave Dennis: Michael Bostic-Jones
Roy Wilkins/Aaron Henry: Milton Threadcraft
MCNamara/EastlandD/MCCullough/Gov. Johnson: Mark Wright
George Wallace/Corman/Mansfield/Reuther: Allen Morton
Evertt Dirksen/Deloach/Cellers: Larry Fairall
Judge Smith/Trammell/Gov, Sanders: Bob Schellenberger
Stanley Levison/John McCormack/Edwin King: Paul Heck
Kay Graham/Katherine St. George: Donna Banks
Ensemble: Frankie Rady