With the current United States presidency up for grabs and hot in the news, Cleveland Play House’s “All the Way” is certainly timely. Running now through October 9 in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square, this political drama about “Accidental President” Lyndon B. Johnson’s (LBJ) rise to power in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s death is a mix of riveting emotional moments and patches of people making speeches.
Written by Robert Schenkkan and directed by Giovanna Sardelli, the play covers the first year of LBJ’s presidency. The talented cast covers a script that contains everything from campaign shenanigans to civil rights. It illustrates a time in our nation when the very fibers of our moral, personal and social character was being challenged. It illustrates that, as a nation, we still need to do better.
Shockingly relevant for today, “All the Way” explores the process of desegregation, and the violence that imposed itself on the African American community at the hands of those who did not want to see equality for all during the 1960s.
The cry for peace and the need for social justice in 1964 is still a cry we’re hearing today. The tandems of racial inequity from then are still reaching into our lives in 2016.
Regardless of some of the segments that seem to drone on with political “blah-blah-blah,” two actors stand out in particular for their work on this production.
Jason Bowen’s portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is passionate, charismatic and enthralling. The power of Dr. King’s principles and uplift of his words are delivered with a rallying elegance and truth by Bowen. Bowen’s depiction is one that shows Dr. King’s humanity, and inspires with his struggle.
There were several moments during his monologues where I wanted to stand up and promise to fight with him. To get up out of my chair right there in the Allen Theatre and scream that people are still good, and that we can win the battle for equality and decency in America – in 1964 and in 2016.
Steve Vinovich’s interpretation of President Lyndon Baines Johnson is one of a man caught between a rock and a hard place. Vinovich’s likeability creates of feeling of LBJ almost as a wise uncle, simultaneously paired with a hard-ass politician who’s ready to fight. He gives LBJ some wonderful quiet moments of contemplation that become even more poignant as the character is driven to wheel and deal with the sharks of Washington D.C.
Although all of Cleveland is gushing over this play, I personally found a lot of the pacing to be slow, and some of the political content to be rambling and dry. This mixed with the fact that a lot of the staging consisted of groups of people sitting or standing in one place and just talking at each other left me antsy. At certain places, I was just plain bored. But those things at least made me grateful for the parts of this production that DID work. The second act, in particular, paced much better than the first act.
All that said, if you haven’t gotten your political fill through our real-life, current-day Presidential Election drama, “All the Way” gives you all of the Republican versus Democrat you can handle. It also will remind audiences that work still needs to be done in our country regarding social, economic, racial, and gender inequity. If you’re like me, it WILL say to you: try to be a better human. And that’s a good takeaway message.
“All the Way” plays on the Allen Theatre stage now through October 9, 2016. Tickets range in price from $25-$100 each. To order single tickets please call 216-241-6000 or visit clevelandplayhouse.com. Groups of 10+ save up to 40% off single ticket prices; call 216-400-7027.