Lyric Repertory Company recalls the LBJ era in ‘All the Way’

USU theatre professor Richie Call reprises his 2019 role as President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the Lyric Repertory Company's current production of "All the Way."

LOGAN – The Lyric Repertory Company’s current production of “All the Way” is a one-man show with a huge cast.

Confused? Don’t Be. Just settle back and enjoy the ride. It’s wild.

The award-winning drama by Robert Schenkkan recaptures President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s titanic struggle to coerce a reluctant Congress into enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and — just by coincidence, of course – ensuring his re-election as president.

Utah State University theatre professor Richie Call stars as LBJ. He appears alone on stage, backed up by 22 co-stars portraying dozens of real-life political figures via pre-recorded digital segments.

Although the production’s artistic design was partially dictated by pandemic expediency, it works brilliantly given the subject matter of “All the Way.”

Call is surrounded by disembodied and combative voices, clearly illustrating the isolation that Johnson must have felt even when dealing with his supposed political allies.

As Call paces the stage like a caged animal, it calls to mind Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech where the former president praised “… the man in the arena … who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly …”

Call’s performance is remarkable in every respect. He portrays Johnson as a conflicted idealist who must employ power brutally to achieve lofty political goals that somehow tragically slip away amid the fight.

Despite Johnson’s stubbornly misguided leadership in the Vietnam War, Call finds insightful ways to illustrate the embattled president’s vulnerability and neediness prior to that crisis. In so doing, the local actor succeeds in resurrecting a vestige of humanity in the chief executive whose image is now sadly synonymous with reckless abuse of power.

One of the most admirable things about “All the Way” is that Schenkkan’s script operates on more levels than a freight elevator.

On one hand, “All the Way” is a morality play about the human and political price of progress in our society. On the other hand, it’s a painful history lesson for Americans young and old.

For those of us who lived through that era, “All the Way” is a postcard from the 1960s. While history was being made in the dark corners of the corridors of power, we slept through it all, lulled into daily comas by official misdirection, half-truths and outright lies from politicians and a sometimes complicit media establishment.

The play contains at least a half-dozen “Ah ha!” moments, when vintage audience members say to them themselves: “Oh, so that’s what really happened!”

Those painful insights are reinforced by some spot-on performances in the digital vignettes.

One is those eerily accurate portrayals was delivered by young Kenny Bordieri, who masterfully recaptures not only the speech patterns of former Alabama governor George Wallace, but also his trademark eye-rolling and twitching eyebrows.

Another came from Jed Broberg, who reeks of latent malevolence as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Other stand-out digital performances in “All the Way” include John Abramson as Sen. Richard Russell, Julie Hochner as Lady Bird Johnson and Alex Smith as Martin Luther King, Jr.

For the younger members of the audience (and there were unfortunately too few of them at the premiere on June 19), the play is a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Back then, politics was a dirty game loosely governed by rules that its participants ruthlessly made up as they went along. Any tactic was fair, because morality was irrelevant. While compromise earned lip service, intimidating the opposition was the preferred solution to any political problem. Any sacrifice was justified, especially if the other side ended up making the sacrifice.

All of which doesn’t sound that much different than politics today.

The Lyric Repertory Company’s 2021 season program warns audiences that “All the Way” frankly discusses infidelity, racism, discrimination, politics and corruption. The show’s script also includes racial slurs and frequent use very strong language.

Additional performances of “All the Way” are slated for June 25 and July 6, 13 and 15 in the Morgan Theatre on the USU campus.

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