Asolo Rep Stages An Epic Conclusion

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY JAN 13, 2017

Following the success of last season’s All The Way, Asolo Repertory Theatre continues playwright Robert Shenkkan’s chronicling of Lyndon B. Johnson’s tumultuous presidency with the sequel, The Great Society, opening tonight. To produce both had been “a dream,” says Asolo Rep Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards, but it was the enthusiastic reaction to All The Way, which sold out to standing room only, that convinced him it was not only possible but the right course to take for the final season of the American Character Project. “We should see this amazing historical story to its conclusion,” he says. “It would feel like unfinished business if we didn’t do The Great Society.”

Whereas All The Way focused on Johnson’s ascension to the presidency after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and his ensuing triumph in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and securing the Democratic nomination for president, The Great Society looks at Johnson’s decidedly less triumphant second term. Embroiled in both the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty, an embattled Johnson struggles to pass ambitious social programs and realize his “Great Society,” as the various political forces that surround him angle for their own agendas. A compelling drama that raises, among others, questions of race relations in America, the role of the federal government and the justness of war, The Great Society is “a play with amazing contemporary pertinence as well as historical significance,” says Edwards.

Picking up where All The Way left off, actors A.K. Murtadha and Denise Cormier reprise their roles as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Lady Bird Johnson, respectively. Also returning is William Dick as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and longtime Asolo Rep company actor David Breitbarth as Governor George Wallace, Richard Nixon and more. Filling the role of Johnson proved more difficult, with All The Way actor Nick Wyman originally believed to be returning and then the role’s originator, Jack Willis, circling the part before having to back out and the role going to Matt DeCaro, an actor from Chicago whom Edwards had been following for years. “We’re incredibly lucky to have him,” he says after coming up from rehearsal. “He is so engaging and he has the toughness as well as the heart.”

After jokingly describing the production as something of a mix between Game of Thrones and House of Cards, Edwards sums it up in one word: “Unmissable.”

The Great Society opens tonight at Asolo Repertory Theatre and runs through April 2.

Pictured: A.K. Murtadha and Matt DeCaro in "The Great Society." Photo by John Revisky.

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