LOGAN — All the Way, by Robert Schenkkan, presents the prequel to the Broadway hit The Great Society that had a staged reading at Lyric Rep in 2019. It was first performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2012. This show covers the events of Lyndon B. Johnson’s (played by Richie Call) first term in office. Directed by Joseph Tisa, this production featured a digital recording of the performance and a live performance from Call as the lead character.
I got the chance to review the Lyric production of The Great Society in 2019, so I was interested to come back to see what they would do with the prequel. Having not been alive during the Johnson administration, much of what I know has been from history books that I have since found out have an interesting way of clouding the truth. The show covers the passing of the civil rights act and several of the events that happen after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
With a large cast, All the Way did most of the production via filming, likely to avoid any COVID restrictions, which made for an interesting experience watching Call interact with the other characters and their prerecorded performances. The action is set mostly in the oval office, with set design based mostly on projections by Stephen Piechocki. A few times the set changed to other places within the White House and other locations of historical significance, such as the Democratic National Convention of 1964 and protests in Mississippi. and the projections that Piechocki provided were fantastic. The technical prowess to connect the recordings with Call’s live performance took a lot of work, and director of photography Andy Lorimer, sound and audio designer Dylan Adkins, and tech intern Domanick Rose all seemed to have worked tirelessly with Call, director Tisa, and the rest of the cast to put together this production.
Watching this production reminded me of how much I needed to be reminded of history, and that even though much has changed, much has stayed the same. I was taken by the performance of Alex Smith as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and the depth of character he was able to put into that role even over what seemed essentially like a zoom call with the reverend. I also enjoyed the performance of John Abramson as Richard Russell, a close friend of LBJ who ends up struggling with some of LBJ’s policies as they begin to reflect less and less of the old ways of the south. Watching these interactions and seeing the stress and grasp for power play out in our nation under different circumstances, I was impressed by Schenkkan’s writing, the direction of Tisa, and how these gentlemen played the scenes out.
As is also the case in the unfortunate telling of this time of history, the female characters in this show tend to take a side stage role in this production, but that does not mean they were any less noticeable. Sage Fortune was quite the standout as Coretta Scott King, and when she got to be part of the reveal of some of the lesser known, weaker sides of the iconic figure, she did so with such a human side that it showed her wide range of skill as an actress. Julia Hochne as Lady Bird Johnson played a well respected yet likely misunderstood figure of history, because as is typical of that time, so much of what women had to do was what was expected of them by the more powerful men in their lives, and that power grab was being fought for right in front of Lady Bird.
Several of the players were tasked with the challenge of playing several different roles, and it was done quite well, even with the added limitation of being done on a digital front. Call as LBJ interacted well with all of these recorded characters, and the technical difficulties that resulted were minor. As Utah and the rest of the nation continues to emerge from the COVID pandemic, it will be wonderful to see what Lyric Repertory can do with their season next year when they can return to full productions and complete staging, because the amount of expertise and thought that has been put into limited and adjusted productions is outstanding and commendable. The choice of presenting All the Way is also timely considering the political climate and the things that can be learned based on the passage of civil rights, how much has changed since 1964, and how much has really not changed at all.