|President Lyndon B. Johnson (Michael Monagle, center) signs the Civil Rights Act on June 19,1964.
Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way” goes back 55 years to what happened after that awful day, Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
This docudrama, presented by Palo Alto Players, relates what his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, did in the year between becoming what he called “an accidental president” and seeking election in his own right in 1964.
Played by Michael Monagle, the folksy but wily Texan’s first goal was to see the landmark Civil Rights Act enacted. After succeeding in that endeavor, he then sought the Democratic nomination and election. The play’s title comes from his election slogan, “All the way with LBJ.”
Getting the Civil Rights Act through Congress was an enormous task, given the staunch opposition by Southern Democrats.
It once included a voting rights provision, but he was forced to compromise by dropping it and sticking with just equal rights to employment and public accommodations.
This compromise didn’t sit well with black leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Fred Pitts), the fiery Stokely Carmichael (William Bryant Jr.) and others. They agreed, though, after Johnson promised he would push for voting rights after the election. The amended bill passed in June 1964.
There were more obstacles along the way, but Johnson managed to succeed.
He did so through flattery, threats, promises and demands for loyalty from his backers as well as those who stood in his way.
The play ends with his landslide victory over Sen. Barry Goldwater.
It has a hint of the Vietnam War to come when Defense Secretary Robert McNamara reports a possible North Vietnamese attack against Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin and requests a military response.
It only touches on Johnson’s planned War on Poverty, a signature accomplishment after his election.
All of this history plays out in a fascinating way for those who lived through those times. It has some painfully familiar parallels to what’s happening today with demonization of immigrants, attempts at voter suppression in the South and some presidential tactics that have less noble goals than Johnson’s.
|Sen. Hubert Humphrey (Tom Gough, left) talks with President Johnson (Michael Monagle).
Directed by Peter Allas, many in the 19-member cast play multiple roles. Some of the more memorable characters are Sen. Hubert Humphrey (Tom Gough), who became Johnson’s vice president; Walter Jenkins (Kevin Copps), Johnson’s valued aide who was disgraced after a sexual encounter with a man; and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Andrew Harris), who was himself outed later; among many others.
Although the acting isn’t as polished as in the 2012 world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, this production is still well done and highly fascinating.
It’s facilitated by the sets and projections by Randy Wong-Westbrooke, costumes by R. Dutch Fritz, lighting by Rick Amerson and sound by James Goode.
Running about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, “All the Way” will continue through Nov. 18 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.
For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.
Photos by Joyce Goldschmid
Photos by Joyce Goldschmid