Will the Real LBJ Please Stand Up?

As the brother of Andrew Goodman, I’ve met quite a few presidents, but I never did meet Lyndon Johnson (LBJ). Still, I’ve listened to his White House tapes (a practice that stopped after Richard Nixon – well…duh!) and I’ve read histories and heard my mother’s stories of being in the Oval Office when Andy was missing.

So, it was a rare treat to be invited to see the new play “All the Way,” which is in previews at the Neil Simon theater. Nothing prepared me for the accuracy and vitality of Robert Schenkkan’s script – brought to life by an outstanding cast and an amazing set.

Bryan Cranston is LBJ. He completely transforms into the character, mesmerizing the audience. It was gripping to witness Mr. Cranston capture Lyndon Johnson’s persona, mannerisms and infamous arm-twisting bravado throughout every fast-paced minute of the two-and-a-half hour production. Another great performance: Brandon J. Dirden embodied the tone and bearing of MLK, while at the same time revealing the complexities and nuances of the real man. Truly, the entire cast brought to life the many and varied players in the Civil Rights Movement and the U.S. government. I was fascinated to see Bob Moses, Dave Dennis, Fanny Lou Hammer, Hubert Humphrey, Lady Bird and J Edgar Hoover spring to life as the story unfolded.

The most powerful moment for me was when the image of my brother appeared on the big screen that provided a backdrop to the set, along with the images of James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner. Seeing the events that surrounded these historic murders and hearing the shots fired was emotional, but also strangely cathartic. It was – somehow – gratifying to see an event that was so personal to my family portrayed in a way that truly elevated and gave context to the sacrifice and sorrow that we and the other families endured.

A large and talented cast brought to life the history of this watershed year for civil rights and made it clear that the events of 1964 — including the way Americans reacted and politics functioned — has not changed that drastically. It was truly a good way to learn the historical nuances and also see the parallels with current events. Whoever said that “if we do not learn our history, we will be doomed to repeat it” would approve of this play!

About the Author: David Goodman is the brother of Andrew Goodman and the President of The Andrew Goodman Foundation and its Board of Trustees.