Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Great Society—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Recalling the 60’s
This drama about the LBJ years in the White House is written by Robert Schenkkan and directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Bowmer Theatre at OSF and runs through November 1st.  For more information, go to or call 800-219-8161.

This play is a sequel to the LBJ story portrayed in OSF’s All The Way.  That show went to Broadway from here and won some Tony Awards.  I’m sure OSF has plans of doing the same with this show.  And Jack Willis repeats his role as the irascible LBJ.  This is a history lesson in politics, covering 1965-69 in less than three hours and is quite amazing, highlighting many of the key issues and figures of that era, as well as giving us brief glimpses into the man himself.

It is said, if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there.  And, if true, then this will give you a sketch of what happened.  But it is also said that, if you have not learned from the Past, you are condemned to repeat it.  One only needs to look at current affairs to see, perhaps, the truth of that latter statement.  And, although I remember some of the issues revealed, I was not aware of the inner workings of our government.  (Also, I was a member of the OSF acting company for some of those years and studying theatre with Dr. Bowmer at, what was then, SOC.)

The stage setting gives the illusion of an arena, very appropriate for the battles that will be fought here.  For the most part, the actions and issues fly around like a whirlwind, giving you the essence of the concerns and only occasionally slowing for the human doubts and frailties that must have plagued great men such as LBJ (Jack Willis), Dr. King (Kenajuan Bentley), Humphrey (Peter Frechette), and Bobby Kennedy (Danforth Comins).  And some of the issues in the spotlight during these times were the race riots in Watts; the demonstrations and marches in the South, for voting rights for the Blacks; the War on Poverty in Chicago; and, of course, the Viet Nam War.

A major viewpoint that this story is trying to make is that, had it not been for the concentration of monies and efforts going to the conflicts in Southeast Asia, our domestic problems may have been solved a lot easier.  But, being that the Nation’s attention was divided between the Asian jungles overseas and the concrete jungles at home, we fell short on both fronts and, because of that, lives were lost, needlessly.  A divided front will fall on all sides.  And, of course, the question arises, how many deaths are too many to justify a battle?  The answer, one.  (That, of course, would be the moral response, not necessarily, the political one.)

Another facet of this journey seems to be that it is of primary importance to save face.  All these political figures are constantly aware of how they look to others, their image, and how leaders can spin the stories to make themselves look good.  It seems that both these failings have followed us into the 21st century.  Like I said, these fleeting moments fly by within the course of the play.  But we also get a peek at the homilies that make up a person, too, especially with King and LBJ.

Rauch has done a superior job of presenting us with a well-told story, set in an arena, and letting us draw our own conclusions (as I have) as to the merits and/or failings of those on the field of battle.  And he has not lost those little moments that remind us that we are all just human in the final tally.  Whether we listen to LBJ reflect with his homilies, or his secretary’s (Bakesta King) concern for her son in Nam, or a young black student (Tobie Windham), who was beaten to death by white police.  It’s a balancing act, for sure, of this madcap circus and Rauch is a terrific ringmaster!

Most of the actors play more than one role and they perform them well.  But the top acting honors must go to Willis, as LBJ, who has the monumental task of creating a historic figure and yet being able to humanize him, too.  Quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine this role being done by anyone else.  He has cemented this role onto the viewers’ minds and ne’er will the mold be broken, in my eyes!

I recommend this play.  If you do go to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Ashland Experience (part III)

Again, I stayed at the Ashland Springs Hotel in the heart of Ashland and less than a block to OSF.  I had recommended this to some friends and they stayed there, too.  He had stayed in many hotels both here and abroad and said that this was possibly the nicest experience he’d had in a hotel.  Some major considerations I make when finding accommodations in Ashland is free parking, closeness to OSF and complimentary meals.  This has a very substantial continental breakfast included, secured free parking, and, as mentioned, next door to OSF.  And I have found the charming Karolina, their Marketing Director, to be very helpful with any questions or concerns.  For further information, go to or call 888-795-4545. 

And, as always, if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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