Theatre Review & Dept. of Alternative Facts: “The Great Society”

The Great Society: (n) government programs promoted by President Johnson between 1964 to 1968 related to rural and urban infrastructure development, the national highway system, health insurance for elderly (Medicare), civil rights, etc.; Robert Schenkkan’s play currently at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

Obviously, I was unsure of whether I wanted to write this post as a theatre review or political analysis.  The play The Great Society lends itself to both.  Director Kyle Donnelly sets it in Arena Stage’s Fichlander Theatre in the round.  Politics is a fish-bowl, in which world events and private conversations are encircled by onlookers of political leaders, political operatives, the press, and citizens.  The playwright, Robert Schenkkan, takes us on a two-hour political thriller that compresses 4 years of behind-the-scenes and at-the-podium wrangling that has defined our society for the past 50 years.

While every president (and congress and court) affects society and our daily lives, LBJ probably set some of the most aggressive agendas to advance what he consider social justice.  Yet, his grand ambitions faced other agendas for social change, namely continuation of civil rights legislation and enforcement of existing laws, and the escalating war in Vietnam.  We know the history. This play is about telling the story.

But, beyond reflecting on the past, we can use such events to push the present.  You might guess that I found a way to turn a theatre review into a letter to one of my senators.  Here you go… keep writing those letters and e-mails!

Senator Manchin,

Thank you for visiting our community, at the Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Moorefield. The Moorefield Examiner (2/7/2018) had a nice article about the event and your comments. Being only a couple of hours from Washington, D.C. we are easy to visit.

Of course, Highway 66 goes both ways, which gives us easy access to the cultural activities available in Washington, D.C.

Last weekend, we had the opportunity to attend Arena Stage’s production of “The Great Society”, about President Johnson’s second term in office. If you can fit this into your schedule, I would recommend seeing this play. The cast, many of who performed in the prior episode “All the Way” two years ago, do a great job.

Having been in politics in numerous positions, you are very familiar with how much ambition, positioning and posturing are involved in developing and implementing programs. This play dramatizes that process related to social and political events during the mid-1960’s.

A thought that haunted me as I watched the production is how many of the issues which President Johnson, Congress, and civic leaders addressed 50 years ago are still on the table today. Of course, we could go back 150 years ago to our Civil War and see many of these same issues driving events. Our Revolutionary War attempted to address the over-reach of the King, but left unanswered questions of citizenship. We could continue back in history to the conflicts between Christian denominations with the Protestant Reformation, and the wars of the Papal States. Or maybe back to King John and the Magna Carta… or the Roman Empire… the Hebrew judges and kings… or Egypt’s Pharaoh and Moses… The issues are the same: “Provide for the people”, and “Let my people go”. Security and Freedom.

I guess the point is that, whether we take a small segment of history or the broad view, someone will be pushing an agenda and making decision which affect people’s lives. If we ignore or opt-out from the process, someone else will be making decisions which effect our present lives and future generations.

Keep up the good work.


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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5 Responses to Theatre Review & Dept. of Alternative Facts: “The Great Society”

  1. Laurie Graves says:

    Wonderful piece! So many relevant issues that stretch back through history. Yes, security and freedom. A very tricky combination.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Theatre, novels, etc. can be more than just feel-good, escapism ways of spending an evening.

      • Laurie Graves says:

        Oh, yes! I read and enjoy nonfiction. Wouldn’t want to be without that genre. But fiction, if it’s very good, can hit something deep in a person.

      • hermitsdoor says:

        I think that fiction and non-fiction serve different functions regarding truth. Non-fiction must accurate relay information for knowledge to be true. Fiction (even when we know that the laws of physics are being suspended, such as when Maya enters different times and locations from her natural time and place) relays truth through building on widsom. -Oscar

      • Laurie Graves says:


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