“The Great Society” is a continuation of Robert Schenkkan’s Tony award-winning play “All The Way” which dealt with the first year of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidency and the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 which effectively ended segregation and the racist principle of separate but equal.
The play echoes the hopes of Johnson’s hope of creating a more equal society by creating the concept of a “Great Society” which was put in place to correct the injustices created by segregation and poverty. Following Johnson’s landslide victory over Senator Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, he attempted to lay the foundation for the Great Society. He championed legislation that demolished segregation and Jim Crow. The play takes us through President Johnson’s efforts which established the Federal Government as a major force in American Society. Under his leadership the Voting Rights Act was passed, legislation transforming education was passed by establishing the Elementary and Secondary School Act, Title I as well as the free Breakfast and Lunch Program. In addition, he oversaw anti-poverty programs, the National Endowment of the Arts and Medicaid and Medicare.
All of Johnson’s programs which transformed the relationship between the government and the American people were eclipsed by the Vietnam War s quagmire which eventually ended his Presidency. Among the 30 characters portrayed in the “Great Society” are Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and J. Edgar Hoover.
Brian Cox as LBJ is electrifying, compelling and phenomenal bringing the rashness and overriding personality to the main character as he did in as a media mogul in “Succession”.
Director Bill Rauch adroitly molds the 38 historical characters into an amazing performance. The “A-listers” in the show include Grantham Coleman as Dr. King, Richard Thomas as Hubert Humphrey, Bryce Pinkham as Robert Kennedy, Mathew Rauch as Robert McNamara, Gordon Clapp as J. Edgar Hoover, Frank Wood as Senator Everett Dirksen, David Garrison as Richard Nixon and Marc Kudisch as Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley.
The Great Society is a historical Drama which has a message that we cannot forget history if we do we can repeat our mistakes. As the play closes the newly elected President Richard Nixon tells LBJ, “What America wants is an honest government”. Echoes of the past are haunting us in the present.
IF you enjoy historical drama and great acting this is the show for you.