Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Great Society
Asolo Repertory Theatre
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Joe Turner's Come and Gone and Sister Act

Denise Cormier, Matt DeCaro and A.K. Murtadha
Photo by Cliff Roles
Asolo Rep opens the Winter Repertory season with the second of Robert Schenkkan's monumental plays about the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Great Society. This co-production with Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Seattle Repertory Theatre shows Asolo Rep firing on all cylinders, with a huge production that no one locally could duplicate on a professional basis and frankly I doubt any other company in the state of Florida could, either. Last year's All the Way, the first part of the story, had some minor flaws that didn't seriously distract from the excitement, but this year is well nigh perfect. During a show that lasts almost three hours including intermission, I did not notice any early departures from the audience.

Nicole A. Watson directs a cast of 26, as big as the musicals presented to open each season. Matt DeCaro is the centerpiece of The Great Society as LBJ in his full term as president and full of ideas how to make this country better. Last year a different actor played LBJ and was originally scheduled to repeat; he looked much more like LBJ, physically but Mr. DeCaro's performance is far better. A.K. Murtadha returns as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The role is underdeveloped in All the Way but much more prominent here, and Mr. Murtadha comes off more strongly. Also repeating is Denise Cormier as Lady Bird Johnson and several ensemble roles. She gives a good performance, but this is LBJ's story and few other characters are strongly written.

Other fine performances come from Tom Coiner as Vice President Hubert Humphry; David Breitbarth as Governor George Wallace, Richard Nixon and a couple of other characters; Taylar as Sally Childress and Coretta Scott King; Brett Mack as Senator Robert Kennedy; Andrew Malone as Jimmie Lee Jackson; William Dick as J. Edgar Hoover; and Norm Boucher as Mayor Richard J. Daley and several other roles. The entire ensemble cast does this theater proud, especially the many third year students from Asolo Conservatory.

Based on the original direction by Bill Rauch, this production is directed by Nicole A. Watson. Ms. Watson draws fine performances, within the limits of the script, from her entire cast. Scenes of physical conflict, such as Alabama troopers confronting Dr. King's freedom marchers, have great dramatic punch. Kudos to Ms. Watson for the this fully realized energy. The scenic design by Steven C. Kemp, based on the original design by Christopher Acebo, shows the physical wreckage as the Johnson presidency begins to unravel due to the Vietnam War. Whole set pieces lie upside down, showing it all coming apart. Sarah Smith's costumes capture the period perfectly (there is nothing in the program to indicate that these were based on a previous incarnation). Lighting design by Paul Miller is excellent and based on the original design by David Weiner. Projections by Shawn Sagady help the audience with time and place, and they enhance the power of the drama enfolding before our eyes. Even if much of this production replicates an earlier one, it is nonetheless a marvel of theatricality, brilliantly executed by the craftsmen and women of Asolo's technical departments.

The Great Society is a big sprawling production that very few theaters could take on due to its shear size. Asolo Rep does it extraordinarily well and entertains Sarasota audiences with a historical pageant.

Asolo Repertory Theatre presents The Great Society through April 2, 2017, at the Mertz Theatre in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida. Box Office 941-351-8000. For more information visit

Cast (in order of Appearance):
Matt DeCaro*: President Lyndon Baines Johnson
Tom Coiner*: Vice President Hubert Humphrey/Ensemble
Eric Hissom*: Sen. Everett Dirksen/Cartha "Deke" DeLoach/Ensemble
David Breitbarth*: Gov. George Wallace/Sheriff Jim Clark/Richard Nixon/John McCone/Ensemble
Taylar*: Sally Childress/Coretta Scott King/Ensemble
Brett Mack**: Sen. Robert F. Kennedy/Ensemble
Brandon Maldonado: Adam Walinsky/Gen. Westmoreland/Alabama Trooper/Vietnam Soldier/Ensemble
A.K. Murtadha*: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Michael Kinsey: Rep. Adam Clayton Powell/Rev. Ralph Abernathy/Ensemble
William Dick*: J. Edgar Hoover/Ensemble
Christopher Kelly*: Robert McNamara/Rep. Wilbur Mills/Stanley Levison/ Ensemble
Sean Blake*: Bob Moses/Rev. Dobynes/Hosea Williams/Marquette Frye/Ensemble
Ian Fermy: Stokely Carmichael/John Lewis/Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier/Ensemble

Andrew Malone: Jimmie Lee Jackson/James Bevel/Ensemble
Jacob Sherburne: Dr. James Z. Appel/Col. Al Lingo/Ensemble
Denise Cormier*: Lady Bird Johnson/Ensemble
Kelly Elizabeth Smith: Sheriff's Auxilliary/Ensemble
Wyatt McNeil: CHP Officer/Alabama Trooper/Ensemble
Michael D. Fisher: Gardner Ackley/Alabama Trooper/Vietnam Soldier/Ensemble
Mike Perez: Clark Clifford/Alabama Trooper/Vietnam Soldier/Ensemble
Scott Kuiper: Seymore Trammell/Rioter with Brick/CHP Officer/Ensemble
Jessie Taylor: Muriel Humphrey/Rioter with Baby/Vietnam Soldier/Ensemble
Norm Boucher*: Mayor Richard J. Daley/Gen. Earle Wheeler/Ensemble
Danielle Renella: Lynda Byrd Johnson/Ethel Kennedy/Maid/Ensemble
Rob Glauz: Charles Robb/Norman Morrison/Vietnam Soldier/Selma Marcher/Ensemble
Jillian Courtney: Pat Nixon/Ensemble
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association
**=Appears Courtesy of Actors' Equity Association

Directed by Nicole A Watson, Based on the original production by Bill Rauch
Scenic Design: Steven C. Kemp, Based on the original design by Christopher Acebo
Costume Design: Sarah Smith
Lighting Design: Paul Miller, Based on the original design by David Weiner
Sound Design/Composer: Paul James Prendergast
Projection Design: Shawn Sagady
Fight Director: Bruce Lecure
Hair/Wig & Make-up Design: Michelle Hart
Voice & Dialect Coach: Patricia DeLorey
Production Stage Manager: Kelly A. Borgia*
Dramaturg: Lauryn E. Sasso
Assistant Stage Manager: Nia Sciarretta*
Directing Fellow: Natalie Novacek
Stage Management Apprentice: Rachel Morris
Stage Management Apprentice: Dayne Sundman
Dramaturgy & Casting Apprentice: Joshua Dillon Brown
Student Lighting Assistant: Joseph Hodge

Co-produced with Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Bill Rauch, Artistic Director, and Seattle Repertory Theater, Jerry Manning, Artistic Director

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