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Bryan Cranston Stars in "All the Way" at the Neil Simon Theatre
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Bryan Cranston Stars in "All the Way" at the Neil Simon Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights



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Mon - Thurs 10AM - 11PM
Fri - Sat 10AM - 11:30PM
Sun 12PM - 9PM

Jeffrey Richards, Louise Gund, Jerry Frankel
et al.
Present:

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival/American Repertory Theater Production of

Bryan Cranston
in
All the Way
(All the WayWebsite)

By Robert Schenkkan

With:
Eric Lenox Abrams, Betsy Aidem, J. Bernard Calloway,
Rob Campbell, Brandon J. Dirden, James Eckhouse,
Peter Jay Fernandez, Christopher Gurr, William Jackson Harper,
Michael McKean, John McMartin, Christopher Liam Moore,
Robert Petkoff, Ethan Phillips, Richard Poe, Roslyn Ruff,
Susannah Schulman, Bill Timoney, Steve Vinovich, Tony Carlin,
Gina Daniels, Danny Johnson, Monette Magrath

Directed by Bill Rauch

At the
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
NY, NY
877.250.2929

Scenic Design: Christopher Acebo
Lighting Design: Jane Cox
Costume Design: Deborah M. Dryden
Composer/Sound Design: Paul James Prendergast
Sound Consultant: Peter Fitzgerald
Hair & Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Projection Design: Shawn Sagady
Projection Consultant: Wendall K. Harrington
Casting: Telsey + Company, William Cantler CSA
Dramaturg: Tom Bryant
Advertising: AKA
Production Stage Manager: Matthew Farrell
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates
General Management: Richards/Climan
Company Manager: Alexandra Agosta
Press Representative: Irene Gandy/Alana Karpoff

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 19, 2014 Matinee


As a political news junkie, one who remembers President Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. well, All the Way, a new, almost three hour play, by Robert Schenkkan, was like a “happening”, a 60’s term. With the driven, dynamic, devilish Bryan Cranston as Johnson, the accommodating, nervous, studious Robert Petkoff as Hubert Humphrey, the fiery, charismatic, eloquent Brandon J. Dirden as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the understated, obstructive, self-serving John McMartin as Senator Richard Russell, among an endless cast of characters, Bill Rauch had his work cut out as Director extraordinaire. In fact, the cast list, with many actors assuming three to five roles (James Eckhouse, Rob Campbell, Ethan Phillips), fills a page in the Playbill. There are twenty cast members, and seventeen are men. Betsy Aidem (Lady Bird Johnson, Katherine Graham, Rep. Katherine St. George), Susannah Schulman (Sec. Lurleen Wallace, Muriel Humphrey, Sen. Maurine Neuberger), and Roslyn Ruff (Coretta Scott King, Fannie Lou Hamer) are the three lone women onstage. Mr. Cranston is practically omnipresent, with Congressional boxes in tiers, with Johnson’s oval office and desk, and with his lonely bed, as his aide, Walter Jenkins (Christopher Liam Moore) subserviently lays out his clothes. Later on, Jenkins will have his own significant scene.

It’s November 1963 - November 1964, following Kennedy’s assassination through the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the November presidential election. The early talk of Vietnam, J. Edgar Hoover’s (Michael McKean) obsession with Rev. King, the Congressional Black Caucus and voting rights, the seating of a black delegation at the Democratic Convention, and Johnson’s exuberant wheeling and dealing, just a portion of the play’s historical context, all come to life in this very mesmerizing, very emotional, very combustive production. Johnson’s sexist humiliation of Lady Bird plays out almost simultaneous to Rev. King’s barn-burning monologues, with each of the dozens of characters finding a unique, differentiated voice. The stage is chock full of vibrant personalities and brimming with inspirational, American history. Mr. Schenkkan has more than done his research. This is a dramatic dissertation of encyclopedic proportions, yet entertaining and gripping at once. Mr. Cranston leans into his many foes as well as his very few friends. Toward the end of the almost three hour play, it seems his only friends had been his aide and his wife, before the aide (Jenkins) was caught in a 60’s-style scandal, leaving Lady Bird as his stalwart support. Missing characters are Johnson’s daughters and Bobby Kennedy, who’s there in script and spirit. By intermission, Mr. Cranston IS Lyndon Johnson for all purposes, the full reincarnation, and one feels like a giant, black-white standing television had lured us right in, like “Purple Rose of Cairo”.

A true tour de force performance, in addition to Mr. Cranston’s, is Brandon J. Dirden’s Rev. King, with exceptional inflection, power, breathless diatribes, and monumental magnetism. Also, Roy Campbell’s George Wallace, one of Johnson’s strongest foes, was evocative of the fear-mongering South, too close for comfort. Peter Jay Fernandez is a professorial and introspective Roy Wilkins, Director of the NAACP, J. Bernard Calloway is Rev. Ralph Abernathy, King’s secretary and treasurer of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and James Harrison is Stokely Carmichael, the persistent Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizer. With two interlocking dramas presented, the plight of the black communities and Johnson’s need to win his own election, Mr. Schenkkan’s concept of zeroing in on the Civil Rights Act was brilliant. It glued the multitudinous characters, speeches, projections (thanks to Shawn Sagady), historical facts, and complex scenic spaces together into a play of cinematic proportion. We were truly drawn in.

Mr. Rauch has directed with quintessential nuance to spotlight one speech, one comment, one character, or one precise moment in history. Christopher Acebo’s set rivets the rapidly shifting and interlocking dramas, while Deborah M. Dryden’s costumes bring the imagination back a half century. Jane Cox’ lighting and Paul James Prendergast’s sound shift from large stage to one-character magnification. Mr. Schenkkan will present a sequel to this play in Oregon in the near future, and I hope to see it on Broadway in the next seasons. Kudos to all.



Bryan Cranston, Michael McKean, Steve Vinovich
in Robert Schenkkan's "All the Way"
Courtesy of Evgenia Eliseeva



Robert Petkoff and Bryan Cranston
in Robert Schenkkan's "All the Way"
Courtesy of Evgenia Eliseeva



For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net