Peter Frechette, Jack Willis and More Go All the Way in New LBJ Play Beginning July 25 in OR
By Kenneth Jones
The world premiere of All the Way, the new play by Robert Schenkkan, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Kentucky Cycle, begins performances July 25 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Jack Willis, two-time Tony Award nominee Peter Frechette, Kenajuan Bentley and Terri McMahon are in the ensemble of 17 creating 61 roles conjuring mid-1960s U.S. politics.
Bill Rauch, OSF artistic director, directs the Ashland, OR, production, which is the company's fourth commission from American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle. The new work about American President Lyndon B. Johnson is the third Schenkkan play produced at OSF following Handler (2002) and By the Waters of Babylon (2005). Opening night is set for July 28.
In OSF notes, Schenkkan described the play this way: "This play, like so many of the History Plays of Shakespeare is a meditation on Power. It begins in November 1963 with LBJ's sudden ascension to the Presidency following Kennedy's assassination and ends 12 months later with LBJ's historic landslide victory over Barry Goldwater. I see this period as a hinge point in American politics. Everything changes. And the modern political landscape is wrenchingly born."
Rauch said, "Robert's participation in American Revolutions was a foregone conclusion. "Robert has devoted his playwriting career to uncovering truths in American history, and he tells the story of how we aspire — and often fail — to live up to our ideals as a nation."
According to OSF, "In 1964, the year that LBJ is looking toward an election, he has also dedicated himself to the passage of the Civil Rights legislation that has languished in Congress, stirring the hopes, passions and fears of a country headed toward monumental change."
The cast of 17 takes on 61 named/speaking roles and an additional 40 non-speaking roles. Jack Willis (Casca in Broadway's Julius Caesar in 2005) plays President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Kenajuan Bentley plays the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Other cast members include Richard Elmore as J. Edgar Hoover, Mark Murphey as Robert McNamara, Jonathan Haugen as Gov. George Wallace, Peter Frechette (Broadway's Eastern Standard, Our Country's Good) as Sen. Hubert Humphrey, David Kelly as Sen. Everett Dirksen, Douglas Rowe as Sen. Richard Russell, Christopher Liam Moore as Walter Jenkins, Daniel T. Parker as Stanley Levison, Tyrone Wilson as Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Derrick Lee Weeden as Roy Wilkins, Kevin Kenerly as Bob Moses, Wayne T. Carr as Stokely Carmichael, Terri McMahon as Lady Bird Johnson, Erica Sullivan as Lurleen Wallace and Gina Daniels as Coretta Scott King.
OSF presents All the Way in repertory with another American Revolutions commission, Party People, a "highly theatrical production [that] uses music, poetry and dance to tell stories of the work and politics of the Black Panthers and Young Lords, parties that emerged in the mid to late-1960s."
The creative team for All the Way includes scenic designer Christopher Acebo, costume designer Deborah M. Dryden, lighting designer Mark McCullough, projections designer Shawn Sagady and original music and sound designer Paul James Prendergast. Tom Bryant is dramaturg and Rebecca Clark Carey is voice and text director. Emily Sophia Knapp is associate director.
The production at OSF's Angus Bowmer Theatre runs in rep through Nov. 3. Tickets are available online at osfashland.org or by calling the Box Office at (541) 482-4331.
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