I'm so glad I saw this one. If it weren't for LincTix, I would have probably missed it. The play was good, in fact it was great; but the history lesson included was even better. The Great Society takes place over the four years of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency.
We don't focus too much on President Johnson in school. Reagan sure, Nixon definitely, but Johnson? Who's that? Exactly. As a reminder, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, LBJ was vice president and won one election after taking on the role from Kennedy. The Great Society focuses on his main term from 1964 - 1969.
Here's what I learned from a 2 hour and 45 minute play on the man. LBJ had mostly good domestic policy. He's the president who gave us medicare and medicaid, signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, had strong policies on education and transportation, and generally cared about the well-being of the American people.
His foreign policy was catastrophic. He was the president who entered Vietnam and sacrificed millions of lives.
The Great Society primarily focuses on his interactions with the Civil Rights movement and entering Vietnam.
Back to the play. I loved the civil rights scenes, especially when Dr Martin Luther King (played by Grantham Coleman) was interacting with the president. Just after LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act, MLK says to him "so now we have to help our brothers in the north." I really empathized with both of them in this scene. MLK was asking for rights that people were entitled to, LBJ needed time between political battles.
I suspect the Vietnam scenes were generous to President Johnson. They portray him heavily leaning on his advisors for foreign policy help. Each time the conflict (and then war) escalated, he was under the impression that was as bad as it was going to get. I wasn't sure what to do with the president's naivety in these scenes.
There was definitely a lot going on the whole show. The playbill came with a cheatsheet of 40 different characters that would appear throughout the show. Five years of politics is hard to compress, but the two and a half hours were mostly digestible.
The Great Society closed on November 30th.