Robert Schenkkan Talks LBJ Tragedy in All The Way Follow Up The Great Society

By Evan Henerson
27 Jul 2014

Robert Schenkkan
Robert Schenkkan
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN catches up with award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan and actor Jack Willis, starring as Lyndon Baines Johnson in The Great Society, Schenkkan's second installment of plays about President Johnson.


The last time we checked in on Lyndon Baines Johnson, the man was flying high.

The embattled Texan had warded off a series of intense domestic challenges to take the White House for his first full term, battling and maneuvering through the passage of a highly contentious Civil Rights Act and staring down a number of tough opponents. As both the history books and Robert Schenkkan's aptly-named play reflect, LBJ had gone "all the way" and as the curtain was about to come down, a victorious President Johnson was ready to party.

But as the history books also reflect, that ain't the end of the story. Johnson wasn't done, and Schenkkan wasn't done with him.

As All The Way was wending its way through an impressive string of hit productions from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to American Repertory Theater and ultimately a Tony Award-winning production on Broadway, the playwright was hard at work on the saga's second part. The Great Society, a co-commission between the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) and Seattle Repertory Theatre, takes LBJ to war. The President's ambitious set of social programs known as The Great Society and his voting rights legislation ratchets up the tension in Southern states while America's escalating involvement in the Vietnam War rips the country — and Johnson's presidency — apart.

As the company of The Great Society geared up for the production's opening in Ashland, OR, the team members had cause to look forward as well as back.

The OSF production reunites Schenkkan and director Bill Rauch with many of the same OSF company members who created the 2012 world premiere of All The Way including Jack Willis as LBJ, Kenajuan Bentley as his frequent political nemesis Dr. Martin Luther King, Peter Frechette as Hubert Humphrey and Terri McMahon as Lady Bird Johnson. Although most of those original company members were not part of the Broadway production of All The Way, the summer and fall will give the Ashland-ers plenty of time to get reacquainted with the world of LBJ.

Following the OSF run of The Great Society, the company will remount the production at the Seattle Rep alongside a new production of All The Way. The two plays will be performed in repertory. All The Way will be adapted into a film version for HBO with Broadway star Bryan Cranston reprising his Tony-winning performance as LBJ.


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