In 1963, America was mourning the loss of a beloved president when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson had big shoes to fill as his successor. With only 11 months to go before the next presidential election, LBJ—dubbed the “accidental president” due to the unexpected and sudden circumstances under which he took office—had his hands full. In addition to having just been passed the cumbersome torch of an entire country to lead, Johnson was also dealing with a controversial Civil Rights Bill, in the midst of campaigning to be elected president for real, instead of earning the title by default.
All the Way is the latest play brought to you by Southern Rep Theatre. It tells the story of a cranky, headstrong, complex, and too-often overlooked President Lyndon B. Johnson, and how he made much more of a difference in American history than he is usually given credit for. LBJ rubbed elbows with the likes of J. Edgar Hoover, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Stokely Carmichael, and made great strides for the Civil Rights Movement and the “War Against Poverty.”
Southern Rep’s Producing Artistic Director Aimée Hayes says of the play, “The story of Lyndon Baines Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr., is complicated, riveting, heartbreaking, and also stirring in all the right ways. I want to cheer sometimes as the politicking reaches a fever pitch, both sides throwing down. And even though I know what happens, I find myself hoping like hell that it all turns out okay.”
All the Way is being presented at the Loyola University Marquette Theatre from now until June 3. It is an extremely well-done production, from the costumes to the actors’ performances to the staging. With drama, emotion, and suspense, the show offers as much in the way of entertainment as it does history and politics. There is also plenty of funny stuff and good dialogue, like when LBJ calls someone “a turd in the presidential punch bowl.” We even get to see the softer side of Johnson when he has a bit of a breakdown—convinced that he is unloved and going to lose the upcoming election—brought to you via the phenomenal performance of Jason Kirkpatrick as LBJ.
In fact, Kirkpatrick as the president, as well as Dominique McClellan as Martin Luther King, Jr., both look and sound impressively like the original incarnations of their characters. They are such near duplicates of the real deal, they could have stepped right off the pages of a history book and onto the stage. In addition, John Bostic is a stellar J. Edgar Hoover, LaKesha Glover portrays a fantastic Fannie Lou Hamer, Nancy H. White rocks it as Lady Bird Johnson, and Talbott Lin shines in the role of Walter Jenkins, LBJ’s personal assistant.
You should go see All the Way. It is interesting, informative, thought-provoking, and enjoyable. You might even learn something. As Hayes says, “I trust that you, too, will step back with us into that fateful time and experience this part of our American history with fresh eyes and an open heart.”
If only all history lessons could be this much fun.
All the Way is playing until June 3 at Loyola University New Orleans’s Marquette Hall, 6363 St. Charles Ave., (504) 522-6545. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to southernrep.com.
Photos by John B. Barrois.