I watched the Tony Award-winning play, “All The Way,” last night at New Stage Theatre, and I enthusiastically recommend it.
The events of the play take place during the first year President Lyndon Johnson was in office and center on the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. Watching interactions between Johnson and the other major characters in the drama — from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to J. Edgar Hoover to George Wallace to Fannie Lou Hamer — made me think of the famous quote attributed to Otto von Bismark: “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”
The language ranges from raunchy, vulgar, and vitriolic to the elevated discourse of a Nobel Peace Prize speech. I joined many others in the audience in laughing out loud (Johnson’s hardball tactics with unsympathetic characters like former Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett), and feeling a part of an Amen corner (during Dave Dennis’ speech at James Chaney’s funeral and Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City).
Director Francine Thomas Reynolds has staged an excellent production of this first rate play with a large cast, including many local actors. There is a tremendous amount of history packed into just shy of three hours, but the play never drags.
One thing that this play makes crystal clear is that Johnson knew the risk to the Democratic Party of pursuing the Civil Rights Act (losing Southern white votes for at least a generation), but he did it anyway. “We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. It is time now to write the next chapter – and to write it in the books of law.”
I left wanting to ask more questions:
- How much of the dialogue from telephone conversations was from White House recordings? I thought Oval Office recording began with Nixon, but I’ve heard conversations between President Kennedy and Ross Barnett in other documentaries.
- What was the final outcome of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party compromise at the Atlantic City convention? I know how the confrontation changed the Democratic Party’s rules for delegate selection.
- On what does the playwright Robert Schenkkan base his dialogue among various factions in the Civil Rights Movement? Conversations between the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins, SCLC’s King and Abernathy, and SNCC’s Bob Moses and Stokely Carmichael are lively and detailed.
Thank you, New Stage for bringing this play to Jackson. It is especially relevant in this year when we mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the Civil Rights Act, and the Atlantic City Democratic National Convention. And, in our run-up to the mid-term elections.