“ALL THE WAY” politics revealed


DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM [email protected]

Politics seems to be on every American’s mind at this time, with news about the presidential race filling television screens and newspapers throughout the country. The timing of the opening at Players by the Sea of “All the Way,” Robert Shenkkan’s award-winning political drama, could not have been more opportune. The play, which portrays the extraordinary efforts of President Lyndon Johnson to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, is informative, exciting, and inspiring. This must-see show opened on April 22, 2016, and will run through May 7. The theatre is located in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. See playersbythesea.org or call 904-249-0289 for additional information and reservations.

12990876_1010922148957307_7607796027038816103_nThe play opens in November, 1963, just after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the subsequent elevation of former Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, a crude but brilliant political animal, to the presidency. Johnson is portrayed by Bill Ratliff, a master at bringing both real and fictional historical characters to life. If you were fortunate enough to see him as Oscar Wilde in “Gross Indecency,” Salieri in “Amadeus,” or Henry in “The Lion in Winter,” you have witnessed his superb acting talents. One of our personal favorites was his portrayal of Frankenstein in “Young Frankenstein.”

13040906_1010921645624024_3572331873283916774_oThe play revolves around Johnson, who holds court in his office as he interacts with Washington politicians and others who are important to the story. Some support him and respect his battle for the bill, while many others, including almost all southern state members of the Democratic Party, are adamantly opposed to both his presidency and his championing of civil rights. Johnson’s tactics range from praising and promising to bullying, coercing, and threatening, and his language often includes abrasive and abusive terms and sexual references.

All the Way” was directed by Jean Rahner, a first lady of theatre from St. Augustine, who, along with Ann Kraft, founded Limelight Theatre in 1992, and is currently the president of A Classic Theatre in St. Augustine. She is knowledgeable about the historical events depicted in “All the Way,” as she was living and producing theatre in St. Augustine during a period when the city experienced local disruptive civil strife. This play is an admirable showcase of Rahner’s directing talents, with a large cast requiring many meticulously worked out performances.

13062328_1010922005623988_9097998396856098884_nThe first act is ninety minutes long and focuses on how Johnson succeeded in overcoming the obstinate resistance of others and getting the civil rights act passed in July, 1964. The second act deals with a countdown to the presidential election of 1964, when Johnson is elected President.

Many of the roles have been double or triple cast, with slight changes in dress used to distinguish the characters. And while most of the characters are male, a number of prominent women are also portrayed during the course of the play. These characters included Lady Bird Johnson (Gloria Ware), Coretta Scott King/Fannie Lou Hamer (Rhodie Jackson), Muriel Humphrey/Lurleen Wallace (Susan Roth), and Kay Graham/Katherine St. George (Donna Banks).

13055370_1010921972290658_1466991359171922892_nThe Africian-Amercian contingent was led by Martin Luther King, Jr., portrayed by David Girard, and included Ralph Abernathy (Larry Knight), Stokely Carmichael (Jonathan Washington), Roy Wilkins (Milton Threadcraft lll) and Bob Moses (Michael Bostic-Jones).

The additional principle characters included Richard Russell, portrayed by Dave Gowan, Walter Jenkins (Joseph Stearman), J. Edgar Hoover (David Horne), Robert McNamara (Mark Wright), George Wallace (Allen Morton), Everett Dirksen (Larry Fairall), Judge Smith (Bob Schellenberger), Stanley Levison (Paul Heck). Varied ensemble roles were portrayed by Jerome Jenkins.

12993560_1010921462290709_8544968434519490122_nThe superb cast worked well together, with the precise timing and emotional depth needed to portray the participants in a historical crisis which had a profound effect on the everyday lives of American citizens.

The scenic design by Joe Schwarz featured a white tile floor with the Presidential Seal, and several white columns. The rear of the center stage had a large screen that also featured the Presidential Seal, and displayed photos, videos, and timelines.

The costumes by Gayle Featheringille and Jane La Roque had the men dressed in black business suits and ties. Those were the days of formality in dress, whereas today you will frequently see politicians in sport shirts. The ladies were attired more colorfully, in the styles of the 1960s. The program you will receive as you get your tickets from the box office has excellent biographies of the actors and the playwright.

Other members of the Creative Team include Janet Chavous (Stage Manager), Jereme Raickett (Production Manager), Jim Wiggins (Lighting Design), Erik Anderson (Sound Designer), Claire Cimino (Properties Designer) Katie Dawson (Scenic Charge Artist), Orlando Jarquin (Projectionist), Heather Brinn (Research Coordinator) and Jerome Jenkins (Production Assistant).

Many of the problems facing our country in 1964 that are depicted in the play remain a problem today, including issues related to economics and racial equality. In this election year, “All The Way” should be required viewing for those hoping to become informed voters; the director has assembled a piece of history that has lessons yet to be learned. And in addition, Players’ production is terrific vibrant theatre.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.