Five ways you don't have to connect the dots 'All the Way' to today

All the Way in Denver

Photos from the first official day of rehearsal for the DCPA Theatre Company’s ‘All the Way.’ Photos by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter.

Robert Schenkkan’s Tony-winning play All the Way revisits how Lyndon Baines Johnson  and Martin Luther King Jr. managed to get passed the historic Civil Rights Bill of 1964. All the Way Quote. Now, DCPA Theatre Company Director Anthony Powell is the first to admit that, sometimes, directors have to really work to find a way to connect the relevance of a historical play to the daily lives of modern audiences. Sometimes perhaps even a bit speciously.

Not so here.

“It’s all right there in the play,” Powell said as his cast gathered this week to start rehearsals for the play that has its first performance Jan. 29 in the Stage Theatre. 

Here are just five ways in which Powell finds All the Way to be sadly relevant to current events: 

1 Perspectives“Voting rights is a huge plot point in the play,” Powell said. “And voting rights for minorities and poor people are under siege in America right now.”

2 Perspectives“We have African-American kids being killed by policemen in our streets right now, just as we had violence in the streets in the 1960s.”

3 Perspectives“We have the Tea Party creating gridlock in Congress, stopping all kinds of legislation from going through. In the 1960s, the same thing was going down with the Dixiecrats.” (The Dixiecrats were Southern Democrats who seceded from the party in 1948 in opposition to its policy of extending civil rights.)

4 Perspectives“And finally we have our generation’s George Wallace: We have Donald Trump. You may remember that, like Wallace, Huey Long was running for president in the 1930s, which was threatening to split the party. He was assassinated, so that never happened. But at that time, FDR said: ‘The people are afraid that they chase after strange political gods.’ And what is Trump right now? If you just insert ‘immigration’ for ‘segregation,’ we’ve got the George Wallace story happening again.”

5 PerspectivesCast member James Newcomb (Benediction) provided a powerful interjection when he called attention to President Obama’s speech on gun-safety reform, which immediately preceded the All the Way rehearsal. He pointed out several parallels between Johnson and Obama, notably that Johnson was the last president to aggressively fight for comprehensive gun control, having signed the Gun Control Act of 1968 into law. (Pictured: Actor James Newcomb. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

Obama invoked Martin Luther King’s famous line, “the fierce urgency of now.” King was referencing civil rights when he said: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Whereas Obama was referencing gun safety when he said: “We do have to feel a sense of urgency about it. In Dr. King’s words, we need to feel the ‘fierce urgency of now.’ Because people are dying. And the constant excuses for inaction no longer do; no longer suffice.”

Powell said the connections between All the Way and current events are so immediate, “We don’t have to do a program note about this to make the audience realize (the similarities). It’s right there. I told the cast on the first day: ‘Ferguson is going to be sitting two seats down from you. And voting rights is going to be sitting three seats down.’ ” 

Powell went on to quote playwright Robert Schenkkan’s comments about the origins of his writing the play: 

“I have always been interested in the influence of politics on the community and how theatre can reflect that. LBJ seemed like such a great, larger-than-life, tragic figure, almost Shakespearean in scope. Here was a man so shrewd he could get the most far-reaching civil-rights reform in American history accomplished, but his gift for political maneuvering was also his downfall. LBJ knew that the situation in Vietnam was hopeless, but political considerations kept him from resolving it.

“As I worked on the play, I also began to see it as an opportunity to reflect LBJ’s influence on political culture today. LBJ’s great domestic programs like Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the war on poverty were watershed moments for the progressive movement in America. But these very programs and laws that changed the landscape of American politics and culture forever have in recent years been the subject of contentious debate about the role of government in American life.

“In the sense, All the Way is not just a play about Lyndon Johnson’s role in the 1960s, but also about his influence on politics right now, today.”

Powell said he would extend that reference to include King “because these two men, by crafting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 together, changed the moral and political landscape in our country forever.”

Powell called All the Way “a magnificent play with magnificent characters – and it is hugely entertaining. Aside from that, I hope people in our audience are going to walk out of here kind of fired-up, whatever side of the political spectrum they’re on.”

All the Way: Ticket information

  • Jan. 29-Feb. 28 at the Stage Theatre
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • TTY: 303-893-9582
  • Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
  • Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at DenverCenter.Org.
  • Previous NewsCenter coverage of All the Way
    Full casting announced
    Official show page
    DCPA Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16

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