Bryan Cranston, known for his work in AMC’s Breaking Bad and FOX’s Malcolm in the Middle, has moved from the screen to the stage. In the play “All the Way,” now showing at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, MA, Cranston is playing Lyndon B. Johnson in daily performances from September 13 to October 12. Unfortunately, all remaining shows have been sold out, so here is what you are missing:
Cranston plays President Johnson as he takes office hours after the Kennedy assassination. Determined to distance himself from JFK’s presidency, Johnson devotes his first year in office to passing the Civil Rights Act. The story follows the political turmoil that ensues, covering each of the key players.
Bryan Cranston, however, is not the only well-known actor in this cast. Martin Luther King Jr. is played by Brandon J. Durden, known for his role in The Piano Lesson. Michael McKean, from A Mighty Wind, takes on the persona of J. Edgar Hoover, and Reed Birney, who had a role in a the new Netflix series House of Cards, plays Hubert Humphrey. The entire cast list can be found here.
Much like the Netflix drama House of Cards, “All the Way” shows what was behind the curtain in D.C. politics. The audience witnesses collusion, manipulation, and lies from all parties on stage, and the action is either in the name of, or against, civil rights. Cranston’s LBJ is a clever, master-manipulator. Birney’s Humphrey is his dedicated right hand who believes in the social equality, rather than the political statement, that comes with the Civil Rights Act. He works closely with Brandon Durden, a Martin Luther King J.R. who is portrayed so accurately that even his speech pattern is on point.
The play itself follows the timeline of the major events leading up to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, up until President Johnson’s victory over Barry Goldwater. With a minimalist, yet surprisingly versatile set, the audience is transported from the Oval Office, to the home of Dr. King, to a wooded area in Mississippi, all in a flawless and creative manner.
The play itself is well written, historically accurate, and interesting. Although each of the individual actors play their roles incredibly well, Bryan Cranston still manages to hold the spotlight. His interpretation of President Johnson as a master politician, a smart man who always knew just what to say is incredible. His Texan accent combined with Johnson’s seemingly trivial anecdotes helps to bring his character to life on stage. As time passes, the audience becomes more and more familiar with President Johnson as Cranston reveals new facets of a man most people have only ever read about. Johnson becomes a man obsessed with power, and yet almost paralyzingly afraid of both what his friends and the general population think of him.
“All the Way” is a Pulitzer Prize winning play that has earned all the praise it has received. While there is no debate that the play itself is an amazing piece of historical drama, it is made all the better with the addition of Bryan Cranston.Images via Wikimedia Commons and contactmusic.com.