The Great Society Review and Pics

The Great Society, a play by Robert Schenkkan that offers a largely sympathetic portrait of the 36th president of the United States as it chronicles the final four years of Lyndon Johnson’s tenure, is a sequel to All The Way, the Tony-winning play that was on Broadway five years ago (and is currently being shown on Netflix.) It starred Brian Cranston and chronicled the first year of LBJ’s presidency, starting in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and ending with LBJ’s election. The new play offers some of the same pleasures. It too employs a big cast — 19 actors portraying some 50 characters — for a sweeping lesson in history and politics. It is smoothly directed, competently acted, and often fascinating, But it is ultimately less satisfying than All The Way.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene


Brian Cox, best-known now as the patriarch and CEO Logan Roy in the HBO series Succession, doesn’t escape the shadow of his predecessor in the role. Physically, he is too short – LBJ used his height to intimidate people.  But even Cranston didn’t get at some of the many shades of this complicated character – most notably the sanctimonious humble servant mien LBJ put on for many of his speeches. The problem is not the acting…

While LBJ offers a few folksy anecdotes, we learn relatively little about Johnson (or anybody else) as a character in The Great Society; it’s as if both the character and the play are too busy with more serious matters. Intentionally or not, the absence of character development sends the implicit message that the failures in the Johnson agenda were not due to any personality flaws but because of forces beyond his control. (This is more or less the opposite thesis of that presented by LBJ biographer Robert Caro.)

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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