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Monday, February 29, 2016

Ideation



Playwright:  Aaron Loeb

Company:  Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company

Venue:  Boulder Chamber of Commerce, 2440 Pearl Street, Boulder CO.

Running Time:  95 minutes (no intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Sunday, February 28, 2016.  (Regional Premiere)

If you work in a corporate cube farm, you’ve probably wondered at times how the executives in the corner offices come up with all the crazy ideas that pass for “strategy.”  Part of the answer is “ideation,” or, as the rest of us might say, the formation of ideas or concepts.  The term “ideation” is a derivative of the noun “idea.”  It’s also corporate jargon designed to obscure processes and deflect attention.

The play Ideation is a dark comedy based on the sinister side of commercial endeavors.  The script takes an “idea” through all its possible permutations as it is “ideated.”  The results are at once very funny and very creepy.  Ideation is a creative mix of business jargon, pointed humor and a macabre marketing opportunity.  

Please excuse my lack of details here, but it would give away too much to go into the plot twists.  It is, however, fair to say that the humor is related to the brain(less) storming that is inevitably derailed by going off on absurd tangents.  If you’re a corporate manager who develops strategy, prepare to be skewered by Aaron Leob’s brilliant script.  

As for the dark side of Ideation, the message is social as well as commercial.  Ideation is a display of how ethics based solely on a return on investment for shareholders is the functional equivalent of no ethics at all.  That a product or service might be morally questionable is no reason not to make money (or a LOT of money) by providing it.

The story involves a work team developing a concept for a new service contract. They only have a few hours as they game out the scenarios (or "vision" them), trying to hit on the most efficient yet least visible solution.  Along the way, they lose track of their goal as the focus shifts from solutions to motives, conspiracies, and tests of their character.  As the clock ticks down, the results become increasingly more insane.

Ideation is a shocking yet elegant script.  Both funny and thought provoking, Ideation is social commentary delivered with the sharpness of a razor blade.  Loeb games out his creepy scenarios, each worse than the last.  Just when we think we have reached the ethical bottom of the barrel, that bottom falls out from under us.  Loeb keeps finding new and more repugnant options, challenging each of us to explore our own ethical limits.  

Early in the show, the script reveals the problem the work team must solve.  I have to admit that when I heard it, I thought it was a joke.  Or maybe more corporate jargon.  Or that perhaps I misheard the problem.  The premise, at first glance, is unthinkable.  After further review, however, what seems unthinkable on its face is recast as a blossoming business opportunity.

Ideation cast L-R:  Luke Sorge , Jim Walker, Karen LaMoureaux, Hossein Forouzandeh, Brian Shea.

Director Stephen Weitz has put together a strong cast and pushed them to credible performances in absurd situations.  Due to the Dairy Center renovations, Weitz puts his cast into an actual conference room at the Boulder Chamber of Commerce.  It’s a perfect setting for the script, but somewhat awkward for the audience.  The sight lines are sometimes difficult, as the audience is seated at the same level as the actors. 

Brian Shea’s (Brock) delivery veers from cruel and heartless to thoughtful and focused in a heartbeat.  Shea is the darkest guy on the stage; he starts the show by mercilessly taking down an intern (Luke Sorge as Scooter) like a lion killing its prey.  Sorge, for his part, bumbles and babbles as his short career is reduced to rubble by Shea’s hatchet job.  Sorge has the smallest role in Ideation, with the possible exception of Jim Hunt as J.D, who is never seen.  Still, Sorge makes a splash as the inept intern with an attitude and an agenda.

Karen LaMoureaux (Hannah) is the one who actually terminates Scooter, not because she wants to, but because she has to get Shea/Brock back under control.  LaMoureaux is the senior executive in charge of a gang of supposed genii who “ideate,” but she’s on the ropes from the outset.  LaMoureaux skillfully walks a tightrope trap set by her subordinates, slipping from time to time, but never quite falling off the tightrope.

Hossein Forouzandeh (Sandeep) is brilliant, exotic, convincingly paranoid and perhaps a conspirator.  He also has a thing for Hannah.  Forouzandeh is a compelling corporate agent, dedicated but subversive.  Dating his boss is reckless, but he’s a stud she can’t resist.  His male ego trumps his corporate ambitions.

Jim Walker (Ted) is less volatile than Brock, but nearly as dark.  Walker gives Ted a veneer of respectability, humor, and likability, all of which covers up his paranoid tendencies.  Just when you think Ted is going to be the adult in the room and yank the others back to reality, Walker takes a deep dive into the group's hysteria.  

L-R:  Hossein Forouzandeh, Jim Walker, Karen LaMoureaux, Brian Shea.
This is a crackerjack production, and the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) can be justifiably proud of it.  With minimal sets, limited lighting options, and costumes that are strictly business, BETC has spun an entertaining story that explores our morality in a painful but honest way.  

When Ideation is over, you may not have a sense of closure.  That’s because, as Loeb and BETC have beautifully explained to us, moral absolutes are theoretical, and arguably useless.  Moral dilemmas are authentic, but have no perfect solutions.  Ideation challenges the cast, and by extension all of us, to solve a hopeless problem full of moral dilemmas.  It's an exercise in futility requiring disturbing choices among evils.

The drama here is real; the comedy springs from the desperation and insanity of the story.  Even if you’ve never worked in a corporate environment, you will be disturbed by the ethical challenges and failures that are presented in Ideation.  We all know the ethical failures of Enron, the mortgage crisis, and Volkswagen.  Those failures had enormous consequences.   
I think we should all be glad that Ideation is fiction.  

The question I left the theater with though, was “has Ideation perhaps already happened?  I don’t know the answer, but I certainly hope it hasn’t.  Unfortunately, though, the ethical crisis in business is all too real.  We can only hope that the details of the Ideation story never play out in real time.  If they do, it will not be a comedy, dark or otherwise. 

NOTES:

BETC has taken this show on the road during the renovations at their usual venue, The Dairy Center for the Arts (recently renamed The Dairy Arts Center).

Ideation is showing at MobileDay, 2040 14th Street, March 3-13, and at the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, 2440 Pearl Street, March 16-20.

This show has adult themes and adult language.  The subject matter may be disturbing for young children (and perhaps for some adults).

Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) has taken a challenge (temporary loss of its stage) and turned it into an opportunity.  Their last show (Vera Rubin:  Bringing the Dark to Light) was at the Fiske Planetarium.  Ideation is playing at two different locations around Boulder.  BETC doesn’t limit creativity to the script, the cast, and the crew.  They have cooked up their own version of creativity, putting their shows on the road and taking them into various community venues.  I know they had little choice, given the situation at The Dairy Center.  Down the road, however, I hope they make more such choices for creative reasons.  Bringing theater to the people is as important as bringing the people to the theater.


PRE/POST SHOW RESTAURANT SUGGESTION:

It’s Denver Restaurant Week, so we combined a special event for dinner after the Ideation matinee.  We had never been there before, so we got a 6:45 reservation at Shanahan’s Steak House, 5085 S. Syracuse Street in the Denver Tech Center.  For those who aren’t sports fans, Shanahan’s is former Denver Bronco’s Head Coach Mike Shanahan’s place.  I’m sure the current Broncos still frequent the place; it’s a very convenient short ride from their Dove Valley training facility.
Restaurant week 6 ounce filet.

It’s a high end steak house.  You know that when you drive up and they have valet parking (complimentary) so you don’t have to actually park your Honda Civic yourself.  The restaurant week special is a 6 ounce filet or pan roasted Scottish salmon.  It includes salad, a veggie, garlic mashed potatoes and dessert (Espresso Chocolate Mousse with raspberries).  We both had the filet, which was delicious, but at 6 ounces, I’m pretty sure none of the real Denver Broncos order it.  The service was exemplary.  One thing I watch for in high end restaurants during Restaurant Week is any indication that they look down their noses at the bargain diners (us).  Not a hint at Shanahan’s.  We were treated like Bronco royalty.

While you’re waiting for your table, check out the Bronco Bling in the display cases near the hostess stand.  There are a couple of Vince Lombardi trophies (also known as Super Bowl trophies), and some very impressive Super Bowl rings.  This is as close to that kind of memorabilia most of us will ever be.  Yes.  I took an iPhone pic of the bling.
Bronco Bling.


Photo Credit:  Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (Bronco Bling and dinner by the author).

TICKETS HERE (Boulder Chamber of Commerce) and HERE (MobileDay):

This show closes on March 20, 2016.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Stephen Weitz

Production Designer:  Andrew Metzroth

Costume Designer:  Brenda King

Dialect Coach:  Gabriella Cavallero

Dramaturg:  Heather Beasley

Stage Manager:  Karen Horns


CAST:

Hannah:  Karen LaMoureaux

Brock:  Brian Shea

Ted:  Jim Walker 

Sandeep:  Hossein Forouzandeh

Scooter:  Luke Sorge

J.D.:  Jim Hunt (Mr. Hunt’s role is performed entirely off stage.)


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Satchmo at the Waldorf


John Douglas Thompson as Louis Armstrong.  Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson.

Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong died in 1971, but our understanding of his groundbreaking contributions to jazz and culture is relatively recent history. In this age of information overload, events from 45 years ago are quickly lost, so millions born after 1970 know little about him. The good news is that Satchmo at the Waldorf (starring John Douglas Thompson) is appearing again for a limited engagement, and he's just as fabulous as ever.

Read the rest of this review at the Colorado Springs Independent website...

Monday, February 22, 2016

'night Mother

Playwright:  Marsha Norman

Company:  ImaginASL

Venue:  Funky Little Theater, 2109 Templeton Gap, Colorado Springs CO.

Running Time:  90 minutes no intermission) 


Date of Performance:  Saturday, February 20, 2016.


Marsha Norman won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1983 for her powerful drama ‘night Mother.  The award was well earned; it’s a disturbing story about a mother and her adult daughter coming to terms with life.  ImaginASL is now bringing Norman’s story to Colorado stages in an ambitious traveling production.

‘night Mother is a 90 minute dialogue between Jessie (Bellamie Bachelda) and her mother Thelma (Joette Paulone).  Set in their working class kitchen and living room, the story begins with Jessie tidying up the house for her mother.  What starts as just another ordinary evening quickly becomes an unforgettable turning point for both women.

Norman’s script is highly dependent on the skill of the two actors, and both Bachelda and Paulone are equal to the task.  Bachelda’s Jessie is a determined and confident woman who is taking full control of her life.  Her facial expressions are key; Bachelda nonverbally conveys all the right emotions:  frustration, despair, anger, love, and resignation.  She’s the loving daughter who rebels in the most disturbing manner possible, yet we completely understand and sympathize with her decision.

Paulone is the distraught, exasperated mother who sees her daughter slipping away from her.  Anyone in the audience who is a parent will recognize the fear in her eyes.  It’s a quiet, piercing terror; losing a child is arguably the worst loss imaginable.  Paulone’s emotional performance will stay with me for a long time.

The first show in the run was not without some flaws; there were some problems with the voice interpretation early on.  The readers seemed out of sync a few times, and their proximity to each other made it difficult to discern who was speaking for which actor.  Even so, this is a first rate production that engages, challenges, and ultimately overpowers the audience.

ImaginASL is a new arts organization, and this is their first production since merging with Rocky Mountain Deaf Theatre.  ’night Mother is a very impressive.  Troy Kotsur directs ImaginASL’s first venture, and his production is a passionate one.  Adding the ASL element accentuates the communication issues for both characters.  Kotsur is a veteran actor and director for the Los Angeles based Deaf West Theatre, and he has squeezed every ounce of emotion possible from his actors.  Their challenge is substantial.  Without speaking a single line, Paulone and Bachelda must sign an entire script.   Kotsur’s trust in his actors is justified; they team up to deliver an emotional bombshell.

‘night Mother is a show for the entire community, both hearing and deaf.  The script is not about deaf people; it’s about all of us.  We all share the daily tests of life, love, death, and loss.  Producing this script with deaf actors reminds us that while we can celebrate our differences, our strength is in the human experiences we all share.  ‘night Mother is a profound statement for every one of us.  

If you miss ‘night Mother in Colorado Springs (at Funky Little Theater Company), don’t despair.  You can catch it in Denver at The Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, March 4-12, and in Boulder at the Nomad Playhouse, 1410 Quince Avenue, March 18-26.

TICKETS:




NOTES:

This show has adult language and adult content.  Mature audiences.

Discretion should also be exercised for mature patrons who have had personal experience with losing a loved one by suicide.  This show could be very disturbing for anyone who is sensitive to this topic.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Troy Kotsur

ASL Coach:  Rachel Berman

Voice Coach:  Kate Noonan

Stage Managers/Lighting: Nicki Runge, Medlinda Kisling, Albert Tharpe III

Prop Master/Set Design/Set Builder:  Melinda Kisling


CAST:

Jessie Cates:  Bellamie Bachelda

Thelma Cates:  Joette Paulone

Voice for Jessie:  Maya Luckner

Voice for Thelma:  Teri Marsh

Monday, February 15, 2016

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee



25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Music & Lyrics by: William Finn

Book by:  Rachel Sheinkin

Conceived by:  Rebecca Feldman


Venue:  The Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, Denver CO.

Running Time:  2 hours (includes 15 minute intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Saturday, February 13, 2016.

I admit it.  When I was in junior high school (ditto for high school), I was not a jock.  I was a nerd, meaning that I was near the bottom rung of the social order.  Jocks and cheerleaders ruled.  Nerds had somewhat more prestige than slackers, but it was a close call.  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (hereafter 25th Annual Bee) reminded me that spelling bees were the Super Bowls for kids who weren’t good at sports. (And they probably still are the Super Bowl for those kids.)

Equinox Theatre Company is bringing back the bee, and it’s a fun, if painfully accurate, mix of puberty and tween angst on hormones.  The 25th Annual Bee is a musical comedy that hits all the right notes while delivering big laughs.  The Equinox production is a hoot and a half.

Katherine Foote, Andre Alber
The cast here is obviously having fun on The Bug stage.  One gets the sense that they have all had the appropriate middle school experiences, as they enthusiastically melt into their characters.  You may recognize yourself in these kids.  William Barfee (or Barfée, as he says), played by Dale Schuetz, is a brilliant but socially inept nerd who makes the finals.  Logainne Schwartzangrubenierre (Katherine Foote in a role seemingly made for her) is a know it all political activist with two dads.  Marcy Park (Tiffany Sieu) speaks 6 languages and spells very well.  Chip Tolentino (Kalond Irlanda in a boy scout uniform) is a former winner with hormone issues. Olive Ostrovsky (Emma Maxfield in coveralls yet somehow sexy) is insecure but still makes the finals.  Leaf Coneybear (Andrew Alber in a goofy getup) is more artsy than academic.  It’s kind of a hodgepodge of middle school stereotypes, mashed up for maximum laughs.  



And that’s just the kids.

The adults in the room include Vice Principal Panch (Mike Moran, who bears a striking resemblance to Raiin Wilson in The Office), and Rona Lisa Peretti (Jen Morris, who commands the stage whenever she has a line).  Rona is the moderator of the Bee, and VP Panch is the announcer who will give contestants a definition and/or use the word in a sentence.  Moran’s “Dwight Schrute" of The Office is exactly the right touch for his role; he’s goofy, nerdy, and yet proud of his meager achievements.  He’s been out of the Bee circuit for five years, after some unclear event that went badly for him.  He’s better now.   Moran has some hilarious lines, as he makes up nonsense sentences for the contestants.  Morris, for her part, is sensitive and a former Bee winner herself.  She’s an excellent choice
Jen Morris, Mike Moran.
for the role; she can sing lead with the best in town.  

Oh.  And there’s one other adult in the room:  Mitch Mahoney is played by Adam Kinney, who brings his impressive resumé to The Bug.  Mahoney is “volunteering” to comfort the losers with a hug and a juice box.  Kinney looks the part; he’s a tough guy who never smiles but dutifully does his time for community service.  Kinney sings as well, and we are all better for the experience.  His deep, golden tones blend beautifully with his two colleagues, Jen Morris and Emma Maxfield, for “The I Love You Song” in the second act.  The trio puts together a smashing version of the tune; the blending of their voices is unquestionably the best musical point in the Equinox production.
Adam Kinney.

Of course, a musical requires a talented orchestra, and Equinox has exactly that under the capable direction of Michelle Fitzgerald.  Set and Light Designer Colin Roybal (he’s also the director) has created a simple but effective gymnasium for the cast, complete with a basket for shooting hoops.  Roybal then lights that stage effectively for spelling, solos and numbers involving the entire ensemble.  The cast is miked, so Roybal has control of the audio levels of the actors and the band.  It works.  The audio was well mixed for all the sources.

The 25th Annual Bee sports an interesting twist; 4 audience members join the cast on stage as additional spelling contestants.  So, a “heads up” notice might be helpful here.  You may be recruited for your (presumably) debut performance in a musical.  Don’t worry; you won’t have to sing.  Just spell.  And, it should be noted, no audience members were harmed in the process.  Look at it this way:  the 25th Annual Spelling Bee could be your big break.

Emma Maxfield.
Equinox has perfectly captured both the youthful exuberance of the characters as well as their adolescent anxiety.  I knew kids like these, and to some extent, I could see myself in their faces.  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a great blend of music, mischief and laughter.  It won two Tony Awards in 2005 (six nominations).  Equinox may collect some awards as well with this production.

NOTES:

Despite the middle school setting, there is some adult language and some adult content.  Use discretion for younger teens.


PRE/POST SHOW RESTAURANT SUGGESTION:

Patsy’s is the oldest Italian restaurant in Denver, and it’s right across the street.  Highly recommended for the food, the price, the service and the proximity.

We were traveling from Boulder for 25th Annual Bee, so we ate at Rueben’s Burger Bistro, 1800 Broadway before we left.  With 42 draft beers available, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a beverage to go with your burger.  

The menu has bicycle themed burgers; I had The Spoke (blue cheese, Applewood smoked bacon, ground pepper).  It was excellent.  My only issue with Rueben’s is that parking in downtown Boulder is a huge challenge.  


Photo Credit:  Equinox Theatre Company.

TICKETS HERE:

This show closes on February 27, 2016.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Producer:  Deb Flomberg

Director:  Colin Roybal

Assistant Director: Cameron Leonard

Music Director/Piano:  Michelle Fitzgerald

Scenic Design:  Colin roybal

Sound Board:  Robert Harbour

Light Board:  Lauren Meyer

Production Sound:  Curt Behm

Lighting Design:  Colin Roybal


CAST:

Leaf Coneybear:  Andrew Alber

Marcy Park:  Tiffany Sieu

Olive Ostrovsky:  Emma Maxfield 

Logainne Schwartzangrubenierre:  Katherine Foote

William Morris Barfee:  Dale Schuetz

Chip Tolentino:  Kalond Irlanda

Vice Principal Fanch:  Mike Moran

Mitch Mahoney:  Adam Kinney

Rona Lisa Peretti:  Jen Morris


BAND:

Piano:  Michelle Fitzgerald

Percussion:  Brian Jaffe

Reeds:  Mark Jennings

Cello:  Kevin Johnson

Thursday, February 11, 2016

All The Way





Playwright: Robert Shenkkan



Running Time:  2 hours, 55 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Sunday, February 7, 2016.


Apologies in advance; at more than 2,000 words, this is a long winded review.  All The Way was a profound experience for me, so this post is considerably more detailed than usual.

For those who do not have the patience to wade through all of it, here are the basics:

1.  All The Way is a brilliant production.

2.  It’s historical and political.  If that doesn't interest you, this is probably not a show you'll enjoy.

3.  For those that follow politics and care about policy, All The Way is a feast for the eyes, ears, and especially for the mind.

For those who are still reading, All The Way is named for Lyndon B. Johnson’s (hereafter LBJ) 1964 presidential campaign slogan All The Way With LBJ.”  For most audiences, this is a historical play, as the events happened more than 50 years ago.

It’s not historical for me.  It’s real.  I was a sophomore at Madison West High School in November, 1963.  President Kennedy had campaigned in Madison, and I had seen him speak there.  I have vivid memories of November 22, 1963, and of the swirl of events that followed, including the 1964 presidential election.  So, this show, for me, is very personal.  That’s a disclosure.  My experience may impact my feelings about All The Way.  The events of that day influenced my politics and my passion for freedom and equality.  In any event, ever since that rainy day in November, 1963, I have been something of a politics and policy wonk.

It has been said that you never want to see how two things are produced:  law and sausages.  All The Way gives us a close up view of the former, and it’s not a pretty picture.  The making of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (hereafter CRA) involved enough horse trading, back stabbing, and palace intrigue that one might think All The Way is fiction.  It’s not.  It’s an accurate, if somewhat cynical, retelling of the story.

Swearing in on Air Force One.
Photo credit:  JFK Library, public domain.
President John Kennedy proposed what later became the CRA, but his role was cut short when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963.  LBJ became the “accidental president” aboard Air Force One that same day, and later on decided that he would become the chief architect of the CRA.  It was a noble gesture to his predecessor, but also a shrewd political move for his presidential campaign the following year.

It is this sausage making process that All The Way plays out in poignant, exquisite detail for nearly three hours.  For me, that’s a rare political feast.  For others, it may be too much talk and too little action.  If you don’t care for politics or about how a theoretical concept of civil rights became a law, you probably won’t much care for this review either.

We all know how this story comes out; discrimination in housing, work, and many other situations is illegal.  The drama, and there is plenty of it, is in the process more than the result.  All The Way shows us how isolated LBJ (or any President, for that matter) is.  He gets the facts, asks for options, and then pauses before making a decision.  That momentary pause (done very well by C. David Johnson as LBJ) is followed by a decision that is never questioned but immediately implemented by the President’s staff.  

I found that striking.  LBJ decides to push the CRA, and his unquestioning staff starts to make it happen.  It’s a heavy lift, but the gears start turning immediately.  A decision to drop the CRA would have had the opposite result and also would not have been questioned.  Presidential decisions are sometimes made in seconds, but the effects are game changing and historic.  I guess I knew that on an intellectual level, but seeing it play out in All The Way is more jarring than I expected.  Presidents can avoid conflict or generate it; LBJ often made the difficult calls, generated conflict, and had to deal with the consequences.

All The Way is striking in another way as well.  It makes clear how policy is a product of politics.  Getting reelected is the primary goal; policy is secondary.   It’s a flawed system, beautifully laid bare in All The Way.  We’d like to think that politicians do the right thing for the right reasons.  That’s not the country we live in.  If politicians do the right thing, the motivation is more often out of self interest than public interest.  That's still true, making All The Way immensely relevant to politics today (thanks to DCPA and John Moore for the marvelous link).  For wonks like me, that makes this one of the best scripts I’ve come across in a very long time.  

All that said, you may be asking “how was the show?”  The short answer is that All The Way is a first rate production of a dense but marvelous script.

Set design:  Robert Morgan.
Projection Designer:  Charles Miller.
Robert Morgan’s set design is spectacular in its simplicity, capably rendering Congress, and the Oval Office while supporting a complicated video projection system (Charles Miller, projection designer) for an infinite number of other locations.  The show starts with video and slides of Kennedy’s assassination, and from there gives us constant reminders of how long it is until the November, 1964 election.  Miller and Morgan team up to create an complete, functional environment to realistically display the All The Way cast.

Live video feed from the stage.
Projection designer:  Charles Miller.
Part of the appeal of Miller’s video projections is that he has set up live video feeds from the stage.  For newsworthy scenes, the actors are projected on video monitors, in grainy, 1960’s black and white.  The effect at once historic and genuine.

Director Anthony Powell keeps the pace brisk; I hardly noticed that three hours had slipped by.  He has a talented cast, and he uses nearly all of the actors to play multiple roles.  Powell orchestrates the set and scene changes like a dance; set pieces appear from below, and disappear just as quickly for the next scene.  He integrates all of the elements, including video, lights, set pieces and actors into a chess match at times, with the critical pieces moving across an invisible chess board on the stage. 

C. David Johnson is President Johnson, the “accidental” President who was a ceremonial second stringer one second, and the leader of the free world the next. It’s a mind blowing transition, and it takes a toll on LBJ.  Johnson’s portrayal is prickly; he is given to angry outbursts, particularly with his wife Lady Bird.  Mr. Johnson has a mountain of lines; he’s onstage nearly the entire three hours.  He fumbled a few of those lines at this performance.  Despite those glitches, his performance is first rate.  He delivers a nuanced LBJ, one who deftly pulls the levers of power, but suffers bouts of indecision and insecurity.

Left:  Rev. M. L. King ( Terence Archie).
Right:  LBJ (C. David Johnson).
Terence Archie is striking as the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  Schenkkan’s script is a full blown portrait of the man, not the myth.  We know King as a preacher and a gifted orator; Schenkkan gives us a flawed man who betrays his wife and disappoints his allies.  Archie soars when he recreates King’s speeches, but wilts when he’s confronted with practical problems.  He is hardly able to unite a small group of his colleagues, let alone a country looking for integrity and leadership.  Archie show us the civil rights hero as who he really was...a flawed man who accomplished much more than even he probably expected.

Terence Archie is not a supporting actor here.  He’s the star, along with C. David Johnson, and sometimes his star shines the brightest.

LBJ (C. David Johnson).
Election driven passion to accomplish a goal.
Don't get in his way.
There’s not a flaw or a false note anywhere in All The Way.  It’s a story that includes bumps, bruises, warts, and assorted chicanery.  It isn’t preachy.  It’s history.  It will offend both liberal and conservatives at times.  It will amaze you; the odds against accomplishing something as controversial as the CRA are astronomical.  LBJ got it done, but he had to crush some obstacles along the way.  This is not the United States of America that you learn about in text books.  Rather, this is the real world, where bare knuckles, ruined careers, and big egos are essential to the process.

All The Way arrives at the Denver Center at the right time; February is Black History Month and President’s Day is February 15.  The timing is not a coincidence; the Denver Center Theater Company is making a point with All The Way.  We can celebrate history and we can celebrate our Presidents, even while taking a hard look at how painful the process of governing can be.  

It’s sobering to watch the spectacle of how we make laws; I don’t want to even think about how we make sausage.  Unlike watching hot dogs come off an assembly line though, All The Way entertains, enlightens, and perhaps even makes us better Americans.


NOTES:

Understudies probably have the most difficult job in theater.  Josh Robinson is the understudy you want on your team when “the show must go on.

All The Way is not for everybody.  If you don’t have a passing interest in politics, this would not be a fun way to spend three hours.  If you aren’t registered to vote, or if you have registered but don’t show up on election day, this probably isn’t your show.  That’s not criticism.  It’s just the facts.  Before you spend three hours reliving the birth of legislation, you should warm up by engaging in the political process.  Invest the 30-60 minutes of your time that it will take to vote this November.  Mail ballots are easy and take much less time than actually going to your polling place.

To complete the disclosure I started above, I have been involved in the CRA in my work as an attorney (I’m now retired).  I represented a federal agency, often defending that agency against claims of discrimination under the CRA.  Most of the claims were desperate, last ditch attempts to avoid being fired.  Those bogus claims are easily disposed of.  It was the legitimate claims of discrimination that I handled that made my work meaningful.  I was able to remedy legitimate claims before a judge or jury did it for me.  I’ll always be proud of my work to defend an agency against false claims of discrimination, and to remedy those that had merit.  That experience probably had some impact on my view of All The Way.

Park in the DCPA garage.  It’s $12.00, and it will save you circling endlessly to find street parking.

Arrive early enough to see the exhibit in the lobby.  It’s a timeline for the events in the show, with some interesting inquiries into our current take on the subjects.  You can also sit behind a mock up desk and chair from the Oval Office.  Get your picture taken where the name plate says “PRESIDENT.”



TICKETS HERE:

This show closes on February 28, 2016.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Anthony Powell

Assistant Director:  Geoffrey Kent

Scenic Design:  Robert Mark Morgan

Costume Design:  David Kay Mickelson

Lighting Design:  Curtis Craig

Projection Design:  Charles I. Miller

Animator/Associate Projection Designer:  Topher Blair

Dramaturg:  Douglas Langworthy

Voice and Dialect Coach: Jack Greenman

Casting:  Elissa Myers Casting/Paul Foquet, CSA

Director of Production:  Jeff Gifford

Stage Manager:  Rachel Ducat

Assistant Stage Manager:  Matthew Campbell

Stage Management Apprentice:  Corin Ferris


CAST:

President Lyndon Baines Johnson:  C. David Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson/Katherine Graham/Rep. Katherine St. George/Ensemble:  Kathleen McCall

Walter Jenkins/Rep. William Colmer/Ensemble:  Jeffrey Roark  (Understudy Josh Robinson replaced Mr. Roark for this performance.)

Lurleen Wallace/Muriel Humphrey/Ensemble:  Jessica Robblee

Sen. Hubert Humphrey/Sen. Strom Thurmond/Ensemble:  James Newcomb

J. Edgar Hoover/Sen. Robert Byrd:  Philip Pleasants

Robert McNamara/Sen. James Eastland/Gov. Paul B. Johnson/Ensemble:  Paul De Boy

Rev. Martin Luther King:  Terence Archie

Rev. Ralph Abernathy/Ensemble:  Jordan Barbour

Stanley Levison/Rep. William M. McCulloch/Sen. Mike Mansfield/Seymore Trammel/Ensemble:  Sam Gregory

James Harrison/Stokley Carmichael/Ensemble:  Laurence Curry

Deke Deloach/Rev. Edwin King/Ensemble:  Geoffrey Kent

Coretta Scott King/Fannie Lou Hamer/Ensemble:  Tracey Conyer Lee

Rep. Howard “Judge” Smith/Sen. Everett Dirkesen/Gov. Carl Sanders/Ensemble:  Mike Hartman

Gov. George Wallace/Rep. John McCormack/Walter Reuther/Ensemble:  Todd Cerveris

Roy Willkins/Aaron Henry/Ensemble:  Charles E. Wallace

Bob Moses/David Dennis/Ensemble:  Carjardo Lindsey

Ensemble:  Erin Willis