Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Review: THE GREAT SOCIETY A Stirring Tonic For Our Time


THE GREAT SOCIETY, Robert Schenkkan's conclusion to the epic tale he began with All The Way, examines the remainder of LBJ's term as president and the turbulent years of the Johnson White House. It made its debut in 2014 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and is now receiving its Texas debut at Zach Theatre. This tempestuous time in American history is presented in a highly theatrical and stirring way that resonates deeply with our current times. While there are some subtle and clever riches that only those who saw All The Way will appreciate, THE GREAT SOCIETY stands on its own as a richly rewarding evening of theatre and history. The play opens where All The Way ended, with Johnson having just been elected to a full presidential term, and facing a multitude of problems. What resonates so strongly today is that, despite the ills Johnson fought with legislation designed to make this country a better place for all, these ills remain dishearteningly persistent in the here and now, despite his cagily and cannily achieved successes.

Director Dave Steakley has done a masterful job with this piece, keeping the three act drama moving with graceful fluidity and dramatic tension. The show is full of visually stunning moments. In ways, it evokes the type of grandeur and poetry usually reserved for Shakespearean drama or opera. And, at just over three hours, it is gripping and engaging the whole way.

Cliff Simon's scenic design begins with the same set as was used for All The Way, but then begins to decay as time marches on with some lovely effects that mirror the destruction and violence of the times. This is enhanced further by lights and projections.

Michelle Habeck's lighting design, along with the projection design of K. Eliot Haynes and the sound design of Craig Brock set mood and time beautifully with memorable visuals that haunt your memory long after you've seen this taut and beautifully written piece of theatre.

The cast is brilliant throughout, but I was especially impressed by the performances of Steve Vinovich masterfully showing the manipulative skills of LBJ, Cecil Washington, Jr. as Martin Luther King, Jr., Jeff Jeffers moving performance as Charles Robb and David R. Jarrott as both J. Edgar Hoover and an eerily spot on recreation of Walter Cronkite.

In the final analysis, I was more moved by THE GREAT SOCIETY than I was with All The Way. This may be due to the subject matter being both more dramatic and tragic simply because the times were more dramatic and tragic. The grand tragedy here is that, despite his noble efforts and masterful political maneuvering, LBJ's presidency is forever tied with the war in Vietnam. THE GREAT SOCIETY is an important play and a strong tonic to these divisive times in which we live and gets my highest recommendation. This is must see theatre!

THE GREAT SOCIETY by Robert Schenkkan

Running time: Three hours including two intermissions.

Special events:

  • Wednesday Post-Show Talkback - February 1, 2017

  • Sign Interpreted and Open Captioned Performance - February 1, 2017

  • Champagne Opening Night - Thursday, February 2, 2017

  • Z Lounge: Musical entertainment in the Topfer Theatre's Main Lounge.

THE GREAT SOCIETY, produced by Zach Theatre playing in The Topher Theatre (202 South Lamar Blvd.)

Jan. 25 - Mar. 05, 2017.

Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 PM. Sundays at 2:30 PM.

Saturday matinees February 4 - March 4 start at 2:00 PM.

Tickets start at $25.


Related Articles View More Austin Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

From This Author Frank Benge