Power Player

One man's political ambitions and his unexpected rise to power in a country fraught with turmoil are themes that fill many of Shakespeare's dramas, as well as Oregon Shakespeare Festival's newest modern play, "All the Way."

The play looks at President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his legacy of political and personal choices made at a turning point in U.S. history.

"All the Way" previews at 1:30 p.m. Friday, July 27, and opens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 28, in the Angus Bowmer Theatre on the OSF campus, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan and directed by OSF's Artistic Director Bill Rauch, the story begins in November 1964 with the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Vice President Johnson's rise to the White House.

"I look at (this era) as a hinge point in American politics," Schenkkan says in a video posted on OSF's website. "It is the beginning of the end of the Southern Democratic base. It is the beginning of the ascension of the conservative base in the Republican party. The country is never the same after this."

Schenkkan adds that Johnson's achievements and failures were huge.

"He did wonderful things for this country, and he did terrible things for this country," he says.

Johnson grew up in rural Texas, aware of the social inequities faced by poor Americans. Ambitious and determined from a young age, he was a compelling and complex figure. During his presidency, Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Great Society program, the latter a set of social-service programs and reform policies aimed at helping the poor.

"He was unquestionably one of the greatest progressive presidents we've ever had," Schenkkan says. However, Johnson also was responsible for escalating U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, leading to a vast and angry anti-war movement across the nation.

In the video, Schenkkan says "All the Way" is faithful to the facts of Johnson's life, including actual dialogue from speeches and J. Edgar Hoover's clandestine recordings in the Oval Office. He emphasizes that the play is not a docudrama. His interest in Johnson is in the man's ascension to power, how he managed that power and what the costs were to the presidency and the nation.

"The drama is quite Shakespearean in its intention and scope," Schenkkan says. "Shakespeare had a lot to say about the moral ambiguities of power and politics, and that's what we're about in 'All the Way.' "

The play was commissioned as part of OSF's American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, a series of new plays that highlight periods of conflict and change in American history.

OSF has produced two other plays by Schenkkan, "Handler" in 2002 and "By the Waters of Babylon" in 2005. Both were directed by Rauch.

"All the Way" runs through Nov. 3. Ticket prices range from $21 to $100.50 and are available at www.osfashland.org or by calling the box office at 541-482-4331 or 800-219-8161.

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