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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 19, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 51
The GREATness continues with The Great Society
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The GREATness continues with The Great Society

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

THE GREAT SOCIETY
SEATTLE REPERTORY THEATRE
Through January 4


The Great Society is the second play in the LBJ cycle of plays started by the smash hit, All the Way. Both plays are now being presented on alternating days with the same cast members, the saga of Lyndon Baines Johnson's presidency continues including his struggles with the Civil Rights Movement and all the problems with an inherited presidency. The Seattle Repertory Theatre continues the saga with astounding pace and wonderful performances.

The first play, the Tony Award winning Best Play of 2013, All the Way, begins in the immediate aftermath of Kennedy's assassination and ended with the subsequent re-election of 1964 eleven months later. The Great Society begins in the last half of Johnson's presidency and ends with the election putting Nixon in the White House. The President's advisors (as well the people of the nation) are torn and filling his ears with contradictory advice on the issues pressuring him from all sides. The fighting in Vietnam is escalating and advisors are telling him the solution is to send more troops. The rest of the country loudly protests the decision. Gathering storm clouds are forming across the United States with the Civil Rights Act, where Johnson's old adversary, Governor of Alabama George Wallace, is violently opposing the movement at every turn. The Vice President Hubert Humphrey is trying to be the bridge between the President and the continuing pressures from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. All the while, Johnson finds himself dealing with the continuous pressures of trying to be President and the frustrations of being a flawed man.

The cast of The Great Society is the same that appears in All the Way, most of them recreating their previous roles. Kenajuan Bentley is once again mesmerizing as Reverend King. His stage presence and diction emulates the power of speech that Reverend King possessed in life. Jonathan Haugen again does an excellent job of showing the bigotry of Governor George Wallace, in addition to portraying his equally bigoted Sheriff Jim Clark, and the future President Richard Nixon. Peter Frechette recreates his performance as Hubert Humphrey. He shows us the struggles of the man, this time not only with being kept at bay by the President, but also by the frustrations of having power restricted at every turn by his superior officer.

As with the first play, it is Jack Willis that commands the stage from his very first appearance. He emulates and projects the subtle, Good Ol' Boy charm Johnson possessed as well as showing the tortured humanity any man can possess while President. Willis shows the audience the torment of trying to do the right thing for the country while having to fight for each step. It is the gift of a talented actor that can imbue both qualities of the strength needed to make federal judgment calls as well as dealing with the results from flawed decisions.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissioned both All the Way and The Great Society. The Seattle Repertory Theatre's run marks the second performances of The Great Society, following a commissioned rewrite by author Robert Schenkkan. It holds the attention of even the politically less informaed of audience members letting the historical events unfold in an easy-to-follow manner. Both All the Way and The Great Society are plays of almost equal length, but the two intermissions during the three-hour production of The Great Society makes that play seem like the longer presentation. However, it no less easily commands the interest of every audience member as the subject of the original Civil Rights Bill are argued out on stage before us, and we - as audience members and as a country - are having the same arguments and discussions more than 50 years later!

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BEST OF MUSIC 2014: ALBUMS AND SINGLES
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BEST OF MUSIC 2014: HOTTEST ARTISTS OF THE YEAR
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Best of Music 2014: Featured Artist Interview - An SGN exclusive interview with Jason Mraz
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BEST OF MUSIC 2014: LIVE PERFORMANCES
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WORST MUSIC OF 2014
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Christmastown: A Holiday Noir is lots of fun!
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You make me feel so young, SSO
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The Heavy and The Light are excellent
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The GREATness continues with The Great Society
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2014 HOLIDAY CALENDAR
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Northwest News
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Cryptically fascinating Imitation an intimate examination of self
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It's a hard-knock life for this reimagined Annie
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Been there, can't go back again
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