Posted in Bryan Cranston, George Wallace, JFK assassination, lady bird johnson, LBJ, lyndon baines johnson, politically inspired, politics

"All The Way" with LBJ: A Year in the Life

Is the fascination we have with politics and politicians all about power and those who wield it?

Robert Schenkkan’s “All The Way,” at the Neil Simon Theatre through June 29th, looks at one critical year in the life of one of  the great political practitioners.

Bryan Cranston and Betsy Aidem. Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

Lyndon Baines Johnson (Bryan Cranston) was one of the great negotiators in our country’s presidential history.  You know the famously effective politician whose arm twisting got legislation passed, but the author posits an LBJ who may have been a better man than his reputation suggests.  Lady Bird Johnson (Betsy Aidem) has a particularly poignant take on LBJ the man in one scene, making it clear that the man was the politician.

Robert Petkoff, Bryan Cranston.
Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

LBJ took office in November 1963 as “an accidental President” after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He had just one year to establish his presidency and launch the campaign for the 1964 elections. That year hinged on LBJ’s role in the struggle for civil rights. He was left to polish his predecessor’s legacy, and create his own. The pressures he faced during that year are history, and as told by Schenkkan it is a compelling and dramatic story.

Bryan Cranston, Brandon J. Dirden  and
Richard Poe in the back.
Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

There were the rightfully disgruntled factions in the Negro caucus. He also had to deal with the recalcitrant segments of his own party’s Dixiecrats, most prominently represented  by LBJ’s mentor, “Uncle” Dick Russell (John McMartin), the Senator from Georgia. Hubert Humphrey (Robert Petkoff) of  Michigan was the Senator most sympathetic to the cause of equality for all Americans.

Among the groups of black leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. (Brandon J. Dirden) is the acknowledged head. He lobbied the President, often through Humphrey, for the assorted black organizations, which included Stokely Carmichael’s (William Jackson Harper) radical SNCC and the much tamer NAACP lead by Roy Wilkins (Peter Jay Fernandez).  LBJ not only supported civil rights, but was instrumental in passing legislation to insure that fairness and equality were the law of the land.

Rob Campbell, Susannah Schulman on the desk. On left on floor:
James Eckhouse and on right on floor: Christopher Gurr
Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

The sets in “All The Way” often depend on projections to identify the locale of a scene. Credit Christopher Acebo for the simple multi-functional scenic design and Jane Cox for the lighting.

The acting, with Bryan Cranston embodying LBJ in an astonishing performance, and Brandon J. Dirden embodying MLK down to the cadences of his speech, is universally excellent. Under Bill Rauch’s well-paced directing, the nearly three hours of politics and power go by in a flash; there is not a wasted minute.

Among other standouts in the outstanding cast are William Jackson Harper, Rob Campbell as Governor George Wallace (and others), and Eric Lenox Abrams as Bob Moses (and others.) Michael McKean is a wry and formidable J. Edgar Hoover.

To find out more about “All The Way,” please visit http://allthewaybroadway.com/

Posted in conspiracy theories, Jack Ruby, JFK and the grassy knoll, JFK assassination, Oswald, Warren Commission

Did Jack Ruby Act Alone?

Charlotte Maier, Bob Ari, and Max Gordon Moore in “Witnessed by the World,” written by Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale and directed by Karen Carpenter. Photo by Douglas Denoff

Real life mysteries, like the assasination of JFK, have an endless fascination.  Keeping evidence sealed on the grounds that it is of importance to our national security practically invites conspiracy theories.  The Warren Commission left so many questions unanswered that it was bound to leave suspicions hanging.

This is the starting point for “Witnessed By The World,” at 59E59 Theaters through December 15th.

Max Gordon Moore and Charlotte Maier in “Witnessed by the World,” written by Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale and directed by Karen Carpenter. Photo by Douglas Denoff

Joan Ross (Charlotte Maier) is a dogged reporter holding on to a particularly tough bone; Joan is sure that the mob  killed both Kennedy brothers 50 years ago.

Bob Ari and Joe Tapper in “Witnessed by the World,” written by Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale and directed by Karen Carpenter. Photo by Douglas Denoff

As it happens, Joan lucks into a film that Ira Basil (Max Gordon Moore) is writing, “The Untitled Mafia Project.” Luck, of course, is a relative term, but she steers Ira towards the mob and Jack Ruby angle for his movie. As Ira envisions it, the film will end before the incidents in Dallas 1963, with a picture of  how Jack got involved in mob activities. Jack Ruby, born Jacob Rubenstein and one of eight children growing up in poverty, loved the high life.

Charlotte Maier and Lois Markle in “Witnessed by the World,” written by Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale and directed by Karen Carpenter. Photo by Douglas Denoff

Joan tracks down his only living sister, Eileen Kaminsky (Lois Markle) to help her with the background. In the process, she uncovers the key to the JFK-Mafia link that she so tenanciouly wants to pursue. Why did Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald? Was it a cover-up? What don’t we know about the Kennedy assassinations?

With such potentially explosive material, it’s a shame that “Witnessed by the World” doesn’t shimmer and scintilate. Certainly for the most part, it’s engaging, but there are moments when interest flags. Joan’s intensity can be off-putting, in fact, is probably meant to be off-putting, but there is a predictablilty to “Witnessed by the World” hwich lets it wind down and disappoint.

Charlotte Maier and Bob Ari in “Witnessed by the World,” written by Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale and directed by Karen Carpenter. Photo by Douglas Denoff

Rounding out the characters thag inhabit and inform “Witnessed by the World” are Joan’s former boyfriend and current poker buddy, Aaron Spencer (Bob Ari) and his pal Joe Cappano (Joe Tapper.) Joey, to Joan’s delight, would like to introduce her to “Uncle Tony,” a mobster who knew Jack Ruby back in the day.

For a schedule, tickets and more information about “Witnessed by the World,” please visit 59e59.org.