All the Way ended on a high note, with LBJ passing The Civil Rights Act in 1964, which he fought so hard for. The Great Society starts off on this high, with LBJ full of plans to bring about "The Great Society." Plans to end poverty and racial injustice, to improve education and employment opportunities for ALL Americans. But then Vietnam happened, and everything fell apart, so much so that he chose not to run for reelection in 1968 after four very difficult years. Or perhaps more accurately, LBJ let Vietnam happen. He stressed to his staff that domestic policies were his number one priority, but when the Secretary of Defense came to him asking for air strikes, then ground troops, then 20,000 more troops, then 300,000 more troops, he reluctantly agreed. It's not clear why he didn't just say no, except that each time he seemed to think that this would be the final push to peace. It wasn't, and the nation turned on LBJ. 1968 also saw the assassinations of his frenemies Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and it seemed that JFK's vision that began the decade with optimism was gone forever. Like I said, kind of depressing.
|Pearce Bunting as LBJ
(photo by Scott Padukaitis)
If anything, everyone's performances are even better this year as they get to dig deeper into these characters that were real human people, especially Pearce, who takes LBJ to a place of desperation and capitulation. A seemingly impossible transformation considering the arrogant bastard he started out as, but Pearce makes it believable and makes LBJ a sympathetic character even as he admittedly lies to the American public, betrays his one time allies, and sends more and more young men to Vietnam to die.
|the men with three names: LBJ (Pearce Bunting),
HHH (Andrew Erskine Wheeler), and MLK (Shawn Hamilton)
(photo by Scott Pakudaitis)
#TCTheater has done a wonderful job programming this fall leading up to this very important midterm election (see also Park Square Theatre's The Agitators, Trademark Theater's Understood, and Prime Productions' Two Degrees, no really, you should also see them!). Go see some theater, have a conversation (ideally with someone you disagree with), and VOTE! (The Great Society continues through October 28.)
Excerpt from Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 Commencement Speech at the University of Michigan (try to imagine it without the gender exclusive language):
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.
The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.
It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.
But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.