Bryan Cranston has gone all the way. Again. I’ve seen the Breaking Bad star put the ‘meth in method acting’ before as Walter White, but now he’s stealing the stage at the American Repertory Theatre right here in Boston. This weekend I had the opportunity to see the extraordinary actor step outside his usual Walter White character to play President Lyndon B. Johnson in the production, All The Way.
The very next day I also saw Cranston and the Breaking Bad crew on my television set accepting the show’s Emmy award for Outstanding Drama. Outstanding indeed—there’s no denying that Cranston is one of the most dynamic and compelling actors alive today.
And those fortunate enough to see him perform in Boston would agree with me. Walking into the play, I admittedly had little clue what the show was about. Let’s be honest—I was there to see Bryan Cranston up close and personal. But within the first hour of All The Way, Cranston’s characterization of President Lyndon B. Johnson took on a life of its own—making me and the audience completely forget about the television star himself.
For those who don’t know (and you’re not alone), the title of the play, All The Way, was named after Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential campaign slogan in 1964, “All The Way with LBJ.” Catchy, right? This is just one of the many tidbits I learned while watching the play. If you like history and/or are fascinated with the actor, then I highly recommend it.
All The Way, recounts President Johnson’s struggle and commitment to the Civil Rights Act. During the three-hour play, you sit mesmerized by the manipulation, effective lobbying and quick, witty dialogue between himself, Martin Luther King, and even Vice President Hubert Humphrey. These characters I’ve read about in history books were suddenly coming to life right before my eyes.
But what really kept me enthralled wasn’t just the storyline, but the actors themselves. Cranston wholly embodies the charismatic Johnson, described as a “Shakespearean figure” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Robert Schenkkan, probably due to the President’s loud, behind-the-scenes personality and ambition. Cranston even perfects LBJ’s southern Texas accent, which is pretty entertaining.
And the other actors are no less convincing as many of them play two or more characters in the drama. One example is actor Reed Birney, who plays both Vice President Hubert Humphrey and the eccentric Senator Strom Thurmond. You may also recognize this actor from House of Cards as well as the film Morning Glory.
Due to the exceptional acting and deft writing, you will find the play thoroughly enjoyable (history buff or not). Mostly, I was impressed with the play’s ability to appropriately infuse humor into such a serious subject (i.e. civil rights). Following Saturday’s production, the playwright and a few actors came out to greet the audience and participate in a short Q&A. The actors, still standing after what I’m sure was an exhausting day, were happy to discuss their roles and the history of the play.
The comic relief coinciding with captivating events from the era made All The Way a must-see.
The play is currently sold out but according to the website, there will be “standing room for select sold-out shows sold on the day of each show, in person only and only 1 ticket per person, from the A.R.T. Box Office. The Box Office is open from 12:00pm. There will be no standing room for previews, Opening Night, or the final performance.” You may also be able to buy some last minute tickets sold on StubHub. Either way, it’s worth the effort.
Photo courtesy of American Repertory Theatre. For a complete synopsis of the play, click here. Limited standing room available.