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Alan Krier: The Critique Compendium Interview

Alan Krier Head shotAlan has been performing in and around the Philly/South Jersey area for over 25 years. He has been married to his wonderful wife Donna for 30 years as of May of this year and has three talented children, Lindsey, A.J., and Lisa, who also perform. He was last seen on the BCF 2nd stage in the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Clybourne Park. Other BCF appearances include The Fox On The Fairway (Dickie Bell), The Who’s Tommy (Uncle Ernie), How To Succeed…(Twimble/Womper), Glengarry Glen Ross (George Arronow), Little Shop of Horrors (Mushnik), The Foreigner (Charlie Baker), Assassins (Hinckley), and Urinetown (Lockstock). Other area appearances include You Can’t Take It With You (Paul Sycamore), A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (Pseudolus), and The Full Monty (Dave Bukatinsky) at the Ritz Theatre; also Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Pharaoh) and Children of Eden (Father) with McMagical Productions.

Mr. Krier kindly agreed to share thoughts on his craft. We conducted the following interview via email 7/2/17 – 7/3/17.

Critique Compendium: After seeing you wear those sweaters in The Fox on the Fairway, I have to ask the question readers are dying to know: did the title really refer to Bailey Shaw’s character?

Al Krier: Well, I don’t think anyone would ever mistake me for a fox so I would say, “Yes.” The incredibly talented and lovely Bailey Shaw is the fox to whom the title refers.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve done serious drama (Glengarry, Glen Ross) as well as farces (The Fox on the Fairway). In Clybourne Park you played both a serious role and the comic relief. Are there differences in how you prepare for dramatic versus comedic roles?

Al Krier: In a dramatic role I typically look at the script and the situation and try to determine how I would react if the events of the story were actually happening to me. I try to think of the character’s back story to help give it some depth.

When it comes to comedy I will do just about anything to get a laugh. I also look to some of my comic heroes such as John Belushi and John Candy. I’m not ashamed to say I steal from them whenever I can.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve also performed in musicals such as Tommy and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Those shows were quite a departure from your other work. Why did you decide to perform in them?

Al Krier: I’ve been doing musicals since the mid ‘90s. Tommy is the definitive rock opera and I’ve been listening to it since the early ‘70s and I saw the movie in the theatre when it came out in 1975 so I’ve always been a fan. To get a chance to be a part of it and sing those songs with a live band was just awesome.

How To Succeed… is one of those quintessential musicals that I had on my bucket list. I don’t think there is a better closing number in musical theatre than “Brotherhood of Man.”

 

Critique Compendium: Your son A. J. and your daughter Lindsey also perform. Did they learn the craft from you?

Al Krier: I would love to say that I taught them everything they know but they are both uniquely talented in their own right.

Lindsey has been involved in the performing arts since she was 3-4 years old and while I would say that my involvement in theatre may have influenced her, I think she would have gone that route anyway. She has done some incredible work. My favorites are Natalie in Next to Normal (brought tears to my eyes) and Kate Monster in Avenue Q. She is currently rehearsing for Beauty and the Beast at the Ritz Theatre.

A.J. got involved in theatre on his own when he went away to college. He auditioned for a show on a whim and has been acting since then. He has performed in dramas, comedies, and musicals. His senior capstone project was an amazing one man show called Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno. It was an incredible performance for which he won an award.

My youngest daughter, Lisa, has also been involved from a very young age – she’ll be a sophomore in high school this fall. She dances with The Next Stage Dance Company but has also been on stage at BCF as the young girl in Dracula. I got to share the stage with her in Scrooge: The Musical at the Ritz several years ago.

 

Critique Compendium: You and Lindsey both performed in Tommy at Burlington County Footlighters. What was it like sharing the stage with your daughter?

Al Krier: I was very proud to share the stage in Tommy, especially since she also choreographed it. We’ve done a few shows together but we really haven’t had any scenes together. It’s always fun to work with family.

 

Critique Compendium: You selected David Lindsey-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Rabbit Hole for your directorial debut. What interested you in that project?

Al Krier: Rabbit Hole was the first show my son did at college. When we drove up to his school to see the show, first we were blown away at his acting. Then I thought that the play itself was outstanding and would be a perfect fit for the BCF stage. I decided right then that would be the first show I direct.

 

Critique Compendium: Do you plan on directing again?

Al Krier: I would like to direct again. There is a one act play I would like to put on The 2nd Stage and I have a few ideas for the main stage but nothing scheduled yet.

 

Critique Compendium: You and Dan Brothers have worked together on several projects. The two of you have fantastic chemistry as both a dramatic and comedy duo. What’s it like working with him?

Al Krier: Dan is the best! I will share a stage with him anytime. He is very generous as an actor and we are always able to bounce ideas off one another. I can’t say why it works but it does and I’m just very happy that it does.

 

Critique Compendium: What first interested you in the performing arts?

Al Krier: One of the first plays I ever saw was when my brother was in a high school performance of Heaven Can Wait. I was just enamored with the entire experience and could not wait for my chance to try it.

My parents always took us to see movie musicals and I distinctly remember seeing Oliver at the movies. My parents bought the soundtrack album and I used to listen to it all the time.

Sometime in the late 70s they took us to see A Chorus Line at the Forrest Theatre in Philly. Just a great experience. I just always loved watching live performances including rock concerts. That’s pretty much all I did in the 80’s – went to concerts and got married. But I digress, movie musicals, my brother’s show, A Chorus Line, rock concerts.

 

Critique Compendium: What types of things make you want to play a role?

Al Krier: There are roles that I want to play because they are a perfect fit for me and then there are roles that are a challenge. I enjoy both because the ones for which I am perfect, I can go on stage and feel very confident. The roles that are a challenge make me feel accomplished if I am successful at performing them.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s been you’re favorite role that you’ve performed?

Al Krier: Dave Bukatinsky in The Full Monty at The Ritz Theatre. Just an incredible experience from the show itself to the cast & crew and the audience reaction. If you know the show it is about a bunch of out-of-work guys trying to make some money by stripping. In real life I had just been laid off from my job that I had for 23 years so that part of it was completely relatable. I love the music in the show and we had just a perfect group of guys.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played?

Al Krier: I always wanted to play Pseodolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. I got my chance to do that at The Ritz and I just don’t think it was my best performance. I was full of nerves every night before the show and that doesn’t happen to me very often. My comedic instincts just didn’t seem to gel with the part. I can’t say why – it was just one of those things.

 

Critique Compendium: Describe your most memorable moment on stage.

Al Krier: Going back to The Full Monty, one particular night let’s just say there was a lighting miscue at a very important part of the show. We performed that show over 20 times with close to sold out shows every time, yet it seems that no matter who I meet that says they saw that show, claims they were there the night of the lighting mishap.

 

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you?

Al Krier: There are so many but DeNiro and Pacino are probably the most influential. I’ve just enjoyed watching them in so many films it’s hard not to be influenced. John Candy has also been an inspiration just for his natural comedic delivery – gone way too soon.

 

Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor either living or dead, who would it be?

Al Krier: Again, too many. DeNiro would be up there. Also, Spencer Tracy. His delivery of lines was just so natural. Watch him in Inherit the Wind. One of my all-time favorites.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you do when you’re not on stage?

Al Krier: When I’m not on stage I wonder why I’m not on stage. Just kidding. In real life I’m a technical instructor. I teach technicians how to fix copiers. Everything from basic xerography to networking. Pretty boring stuff.

As far as hobbies I just started getting back into one of my childhood hobbies of building and flying model rockets. It’s been and on again off again hobby that I really enjoy. I also enjoy golf but I don’t get to play nearly enough and I really suck at it.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with the demands of performing in community theater productions?

Al Krier: Since my entire family is involved in theatre there is an understanding when it comes to the demands. We all know that there will be struggles, time commitments, scheduling conflicts, etc. There are no guidelines for balance, we just do our best. Most of the time it works, when it doesn’t we figure it out.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you bring to your roles that other performers don’t?

Al Krier: I bring Al Krier. Nobody else can say they are Al Krier.

Seriously, I can’t say what others don’t bring. Obviously I won’t name names but I’ve worked with some actors that simply struggled to deliver a line naturally. That may seem like a simple thing but I will practice a single line over and over again until I think it is coming out in a very natural, conversational way. I don’t know if I have always been successful at that, but I know that is always my goal.

 

Critique Compendium: How would you like audiences to remember you?

Al Krier: I would hope they would say, “Remember that guy, in that show that time, yea, he was really good. So what are you ordering?” I would hope audiences remembered that they were entertained anytime they saw me on stage and that if they met me after the show I was gracious and humble. And that they didn’t avoid a show because they saw my name in the cast list.

 

Critique Compendium: If I asked people with whom you’ve performed what it was like working with you, what would they tell me?

Al Krier: Hopefully, they would say that I was someone that they could trust on stage and was completely committed to the role. And funny, heavy on the funny.

 

Critique Compendium: What advice would you give to young people interested in participating in the performing arts?

Al Krier: Do it! Don’t be afraid. There is nothing like being involved in a production and watching it go from the first read through to the final product. I’ve worked with a lot of young people and I’ve always found that the kids that are involved in the performing arts are always the ones that are exceling in school. The two seem to go hand in hand.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

Al Krier: I’ll probably have some lunch. Oh you mean in life, theatre etc. Ok, gotcha. I don’t have anything in the pipeline right now. I started a new job in February so I’m still getting my bearings in that respect. I do have a few shows I am looking at for which I may audition but I haven’t decided yet. We’ll see how things go.

 

Drama Review: Oslo by J. T. Rogers

A social scientist and his diplomat wife decided to change the world. While embarking on the quest to do so, they expanded the boundaries of the word quixotic. After witnessing the fear in eyes of two child soldiers firsthand, Terje Rod-Larsen and Mona Juul chose to seek a lasting peace in the Middle East on their own. Now here’s the really bizarre part: their back-channel efforts led to the Oslo Accords of 1993. J. T. Rogers’ Tony Award Winning play delivered a fictitious take on their efforts.

To borrow an expression from the musical Hamilton , Oslo presented readers with a seat in “the room where it happens.” The playwright allowed his audience to witness for themselves the negotiation process that takes place with international agreements. Mr. Rogers selected a very unconventional back-channel, in the forms of an idealistic couple and some unorthodox diplomats. That made the story much more interesting and engaging.

The author described his work as, “a scrupulously researched, meticulously written fiction.” (Page X) I enjoyed the inclusion of such famous historical figures as Ahmed Qurie (the PLO’s Finance Minister) and Shimon Peres (the Israeli Foreign Minister). Although not actually a character in the play itself, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s presence injected itself into the narrative.

I enjoyed the way the playwright humanized his figures. Simon Peres liked to begin conversations with a story. Ahmed Qurie expressed his love for his daughter. Terje and Mona’s marriage felt the strain of their seemingly naïve quest to end hostilities between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I also liked the witty way the author injected humor into the narrative. He included a few jokes that while referencing other cultures, didn’t come across as offensive or objectionable. That’s quite a delicate balance, but he executed it extraordinarily well.

The play’s major strength also became its biggest weakness. At times I found it difficult to read through 115 pages of diplomatic exchanges. Mr. Rogers varied the pace as well as he could by bringing in new characters to serve as negotiators. Through them, he interjected new sources of conflict into the story. Still, a few hours reading about the intricacies of international diplomacy may not appeal to some booklovers.

J. T. Rogers presented a realistic description of history’s perhaps most unconventional diplomatic undertaking. While the Oslo Accords didn’t achieve an enduring peace in the Middle East, the playwright still found a hopeful lesson from the entire process. Perhaps, someday events will provide the author with a more positive ending for a sequel. After all, no one thought an idealistic Norwegian couple could’ve come this close to ending the conflict less than 25 years ago.

perhaps

Valerie Brothers: The Critique Compendium Interview

Image19Valerie Brothers has been active in South Jersey community theaters for the last 18 years both on stage and behind the scenes. Her love of theater was inherited from her mother who instilled in her at a very young age an appreciation of the theatrical arts, especially Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals!

She has been involved in all facets of theater from acting and directing to stage managing, producing, costuming, hair and makeup artist as well as special effects makeup.

Favorite past roles include Lina Lamont in “Singin’ in the Rain”, Truvy Jones in “Steel Magnolias”, Tansy McGinnis in “The Nerd”, Mary in “The Champagne Charlie Stakes” and Lizzie Borden in “Blood Relations”.

Directing credits: “The Foreigner”, “Fidelity Farce”, “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “The Fox on the Fairway”.

Mrs. Brothers graciously agreed to an interview on June 29, 2017. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

 

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve produced shows in the past. Could you tell me: what percentage of a show’s budget goes to pay for Al Krier’s wardrobe?

Valerie Brothers: I made all the sweaters (for The Fox on the Fairway). Just two days before opening I finished. I have degree in fashion merchandising. It came in handy.

I picked up the materials at Village Thrift.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve been involved in the just about every facet of theatre as a performer, a director and a producer among other roles. Which is the most challenging for you?

Valerie Brothers: Directing is the most challenging because I am I perfectionist. I want everything exactly right. I try to stay as close to playwright’s vision as I do to my own.

When you’re the director the responsibility falls on you. There’s only one person to blame if something’s not right.

 

Critique Compendium: You credit you mother for instilling your interest in theatre. When did you start performing?

Valerie Brothers: I was incredibly shy in grade school and high school. I auditioned for one show in high school and didn’t get cast.

I was working back stage when a Footlighters director tried to get me over my shyness. She pushed me into playing a hooker. Getting me to walking out on stage while scantily clad did it.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you select the shows you’d like to direct?

Valerie Brothers: I love farces and comedies. I like to make people laugh. The sillier the show the better.

I worked as the assistant director on Rabbit Hole. After spending three months on a show about a four-year-old getting killed after a car hit him I needed to laugh.

 

Critique Compendium: Do you take a different approach when directing a drama versus directing a comedy?

Valerie Brothers: Yes and no.

With comedy everything still has to be true to the script and vice versa. I have more fun with comedy.

Doing drama can be depressing. Especially when rehearsing it three nights a week.

 

Critique Compendium: In The Fox on the Fairway, you directed the comedy team of Dan Brothers and Al Krier. What was it like working with those two performers?

Valerie Brothers: They’re my “go to couple.” They have undeniable chemistry. They’re also good friends off stage. When they’re on stage they raise each other up.

Working with them is a hoot. Any crazy idea I throw at them they’ll do. In Fidelity Farce their characters kissed at the end. They went at it so hard I think Dan chipped a tooth.

 

Critique Compendium: In both The Fox on the Fairway and Glengarry, Glen Ross, you had the opportunity to direct your husband, Dan Brothers. What was it like to find yourself directing your own spouse?

Valerie Brothers: He’s such a diva. (Laughs.)

I treat him like any other actor. Since we live together I have a lot more opportunities to talk to him than I do with the other cast members.

We actually had a long talk about his Fox on the Fairway character. You wouldn’t know it from way he performed in the show, but up until two days before it opened he struggled with the role. We discussed it and worked on it together until he nailed it.

 

Critique Compendium: In The Fox on the Fairway, you found yourself in a very unusual situation as a director. In the show a woman takes a romantic interest in the character your husband plays. Do you feel that situation affected your artistic judgement?

Valerie Brothers: No. I’ve known Liz (Deal – the performer who played her husband’s love interest) for years. She’s a professional. Everyone I’ve worked with in community theatre is professional.

There were no worries. Plus, Dan knows I would just kill him if something happened. (Laughs.)

 

Critique Compendium: There’s a scene in The Fox on the Fairway where the characters get into a circle and toss a vase back-and-forth. What was it like coordinating that incident? Did you have a dozen spare vases handy in case someone dropped it?

Valerie Brothers: No. We just had the one vase.

We started off with a plastic vase. It was larger than the one we used in the show. We did the scene over and over until it was second nature. We must’ve done it ten times during a night’s rehearsal.

The assistant director’s girlfriend brought in the vase we used in the show. It’s Japanese.

I was a little afraid. Theatre people are not sports people. There’s a reason we did drama in high school and not sports.

 

Critique Compendium: Both you and Mr. Brothers performed together in Rumors. What’s it like to share the stage with your spouse?

Valerie Brothers: It’s always great to have your spouse out there. Every night I got to observe the things he would change up.

We played a husband and wife team in Exit Date at Bridge Players.  The characters were totally unlike ourselves, but it was fun to play a married couple together.

 

Critique Compendium: The role of Cookie Cusack in Rumors was physically demanding. Walking on your palms and the balls of your feet couldn’t have been comfortable. What did you do to prepare yourself for that show?

Valerie Brothers: I got a hip replacement. I called it my bionic hip.

The sillier the role the better. If people will laugh at me I’ll do it.

 

Critique Compendium: What types of things interest you in playing a role?

Valerie Brothers: I like stepping into someone else’s shoes. It’s challenging to see if you can pull it off. Playing Lizzie Borden is a good example.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s been your favorite role that you’ve performed so far?

Valerie Brothers: Singing in the Rain was an iconic movie musical. It harkened back to when my mom instilled that appreciation of the theatrical arts. I wanted to be the people on the screen, but I can’t sing.

I’d also say The Nerd. I met Dan there. It was a fun show.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played?

Valerie Brothers: Lizzie Borden was a very complex character. I liked trying to understand her side. It was a heavy drama piece. I had fun watching everyone in the audience gasp. It was a very challenging emotional roller coaster. One moment she’s sweet, in another she’s crying and then she’s wielding an axe.

 

Critique Compendium: Describe your most memorable moment on stage so far.

Valerie Brothers: I played the lead hooker part in No Sex Please, We’re British. The director was adamant that I had to carry a guy on my shoulders across the stage in six inch heels: not piggyback. She insisted it had to be on my shoulders. I had to come out a door, too. Like Seabiscut, I carried this man across the stage every night.

It was a challenge doing it so that he didn’t go flying or fall; but it got a laugh every night.

 

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you?

Valerie Brothers: For comedy, Goldie Hawn has great comic timing. Melissa McCarthy will do anything for a laugh.

I have to add Meryl Streep, too, because she’s Meryl Streep.

 

Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor either living or dead, who would it be?

Valerie Brothers: I’m a very big nostalgia buff. I’d say Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn. They had class. Actors back then held themselves to a higher standard.

That’s not to say that actors today don’t have high standards. I just don’t think actors should make political statements like Johnny Depp did recently.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you prepare for a role?

Valerie Brothers: When I played Lizzie Borden, I read every book I could find on her. If I’m playing a fictional character I’ll research the situation to make my performance as believable as possible.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you bring to your roles that other performers don’t?

Valerie Brothers: This isn’t to say that other performers aren’t, but I’m a perfectionist. If it ain’t right I won’t do it. I feel it’s important to the author to get the lines right.

 

Critique Compendium: How would you like audiences to remember you?

Valerie Brothers: Just as somebody who entertained them, gave them a good laugh and gave them their 20 bucks worth.

 

Critique Compendium: If I asked people with whom you’ve performed what it was like working with you, what would they tell me?

Valerie Brothers: I think they’ll tell you I’m open to suggestions. They may see something I’m missing. We talk about it. I go into it with a vision, but they see me as being open to possibilities.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you do when you’re not on stage? What are your hobbies?

Valerie Brothers: My cats. I’m a huge animal lover. I’ll do anything for an animal. Both of my cats are rescues. I enjoy trying to find homes for homeless animals and would like to foster shelter animals someday. I’m also quite adept at spoiling my kitties and am well on my way to becoming a crazy cat lady!

I visit my mom in the nursing home. I’ll go over pictures with her.

I also go kickboxing with Liz (Deal).

 

Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with your involvement in community theater productions?

Valerie Brothers: That’s why I take time off between shows. I love being involved, but it’s nice to sit on the couch and relax. Theatre doesn’t leave much time for other commitments.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

Valerie Brothers: I’m going to assistant direct Crossing Delancey at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage in June. Torben Christensen will be directing.  

 

Critique Compendium: What advice would you give to young people interested in participating in the performing arts?

Valerie Brothers: Just have no fear. I always had dreams of performing, but my shyness inhibited me for a long time. Just go for it.

Drama Review: Sweat by Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage crafted the most gripping tale of an American tragedy I’ve ever read. Sweat presented a realistic depiction of the disintegration of the middle class’ dreams and aspirations in recent years. A masterpiece of the highest order resulted.

As in Ms. Nottage’s 2008 drama, Ruined, the playwright displayed her extraordinary artistic aptitude. Once again, she paired the perfect characters with the appropriate setting in the proper time frame. Sweat took place in Reading, Pennsylvania. The action occurred in the years 2000 and 2008. The characters reflected the diversity in American society. They included two generations of African Americans, two generations of German Americans, a Columbian American and an Italian American; all born in Berks County, Pennsylvania. NAFTA’s effects coupled with the ensuing economic uncertainty it wrought caused this melting pot to boil over. It did so in the form of resentment, nascent racism and xenophobia.

I applaud Ms. Nottage’s brilliance in using events from the recent past to present a modern story. The show premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on July 29, 2015. The events it described occurred either seven or fifteen years prior. Still, the narrative’s immediacy impressed me greatly.

Ms. Nottage crafted very believable characters. I could imagine sitting down and sharing a beer with the likes of Tracey, Brucie, Jason and Chris. Their values and respective mentalities captivated me even more.

The playwright did an unparalleled job in creating balance throughout the story. One of the factory workers, Cynthia, received a promotion to supervisor. Making one of the “workers” a member of “management” made it difficult to completely vilify the “white hats.” That made the true “villain” in the story a bit nebulous. The “heroes” also struggled with their own hubris.

The playwright captured society’s carefree attitude at the advent of the twenty first century. While drinking together at a bar the subject of the modern business environment became a topic of discussion. An inebriated forty-five year old Tracey said, “We’ve been having the same conversation for twenty years. So, let’s stop complaining and have some fun.” (Page 27)

Jason, the twenty one year old white American, discussed his plans to retire at 50. He envisioned his “killa” pension would provide him with the means to purchase a condo in Myrtle Beach. Possessing “money to burn” would supply the means to buy into a donut franchise and run his own business. (Page 32)

Not all the characters possessed this boundless optimism, however. After Brucie’s plant locked out its workers, he struggled to cope not just financially, but personally. His very identity evaporated with the loss of his job. Like many in his generation he struggled to understand his plight. When comparing his time as a factory worker to that of his father’s, he asked Stan the bartender: “Where did I go wrong?” (Page 36)

The playwright creatively alluded to the title throughout the text. Evan, the parole officer, commented, “It’s no sweat off my back.” (Page 9) Stan observed that the new managerial generation didn’t enter the shop floor because they didn’t want their diplomas “stained with sweat.” (Page 26) Chris declared that he broke up with his girlfriend due to her “sweating” him. (Page 98)

Many writers become overwhelmed by their own research. Ms. Nottage avoided this mistake. Each scene opened with the date followed by a brief description of news events. They included both national political and financial happenings as well as occurrences specific to the Reading area. It provided for a good contrast. The use of the old beer commercial line “Wazzup” in the dialog provided a true voice from the era.

Stan, the bartender observed, “Nostalgia’s a disease.” (Page 97) The drama illustrated the wisdom in that aphorism. It didn’t offer much of a prescription to ameliorate its impact in the future, either. With the myriad warnings about increasing economic inequality in our society, all of us should sweat about that.

Tami Gordon Brody: The Critique Compendium Interview

Tami HeadshotAfter a 20-year hiatus from the stage to raise her two sons, Tami Gordon Brody has certainly been making up for lost time over the last five years. Upon the urging of her son Taylor, who is also an actor, Tami embarked on her first audition in two decades; Haddonfield Plays & Players’ 2011 production of Titanic and was cast as Charlotte Cardoza. Since then, she has been lucky enough to portray some of musical theatre’s great “women of a certain age” roles. Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, with Voorhees Theatre Company, Joanne in Company with Cumberland Players, Carmen Bernstein in Curtains and most recently Mother Superior in Sister Act, both at Haddonfield Plays and Players.   She’s also taken on some “strictly acting” roles, such as Harriet, in Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass at South Camden Theatre Company and Reba Freitag in The Last Night of Ballyhoo, at HP&P.   Up next, Tami is thrilled to be working with director Craig Hutchings in the Ritz Theatre production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in the role of Mrs. Potts.

In the course of “making up for lost time”, Ms. Brody kindly offered her time to be interviewed on 6/7/17. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

 

 

Critique Compendium: What first interested you in the performing arts?

Tami Gordon Brody: When I was young my father worked in the record business. He was head of promotion for Columbia. I took singing lessons, but my voice wasn’t suited for pop music. When I got a little older I discovered musical theatre while at Cherry Hill High School East.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve said that you’re “making up for lost time” in terms of your performance schedule. What motivates you to be so active in community theatre productions?

Tami Gordon Brody: What do you do after work? Some people play tennis. I do theatre. I love doing it. When I leave work I get to be the actress.

 

Critique Compendium: From looking over your resume, it seems like you’re equally comfortable performing in either musicals or playing strictly acting roles. Which do you prefer?

Tami Gordon Brody: When I was younger I would’ve said musicals. My background is in musical theatre. I was a singer who acted. There have been some directors who have helped build my confidence as an actress. While I prefer musical theatre, acting challenges me more. I enjoy the challenge of it.

 

Critique Compendium: You’re a very talented vocalist. Who influenced you musically?

Tami Gordon Brody: I’d have to say Barbara Streisand and Ella Fitzgerald. Every Jewish girl loves Barbara. (Laughs.) Ella had such a pure, rich voice.

I have other performers I look to now for inspiration such as Victoria Clark, Christine Ebersole and Bernadette Peters. Bernadette Peters was the ingénue when she could be the ingenue. I’m finding that there are many amazing roles for “women of a certain age.” Musical Theatre is one of the few mediums where you don’t get replaced by younger actors.

There’s a show on Broadway now called War Paint. The two performers leads in it (Ebersole and Patty LuPone) are both women over 50.

Helen Mirren is another example of that type of actress. There are amazing roles for “women of a certain age.” I think you really need to have lived a life to play them.

 

Critique Compendium: Do you feel that you’ve matured as a performer when you play these roles?

Tami Gordon Brody: My priorities are different than they were when I was in my 20s. Now I pick and choose what I want to do.

When I was younger performing was about attention. Now it’s about being part of a bigger thing. It’s about telling a story. I’d rather be part of a strong cast.

It’s great having the opportunity to become someone else. Theatre is ageless.

 

 

Critique Compendium: If I could return to the subject of your vocal talents. You’ve done voice overs for the Special Olympics of New Jersey, Karl’s Baby and Children’s Furniture (in Philadelphia) and JCCA Maccabi Games. How did you get into that field?

Tami Gordon Brody: Karl’s is my big claim to fame. (Laughs) My ex-husband is a filmmaker. He asked me if I’d be interested in doing some voice over work. To do it I needed to lose my Jersey accent! It’s a different kind of medium. They want you to say things a certain way. After recording they speed up the track to eliminate the pauses. It’s very unnatural. So in that sense it’s much different than theatre.

 

Critique Compendium: What kinds of things interest you in playing a role?

Tami Gordon Brody:  Sometimes, it’s the story. For instance, Parade was an important story. In that show, I played a Senator’s wife. Although it was a smaller role, I got to be part of it.

Then there was Mother Superior in Sister Act. Roles like that one really gives you a chance to create a character.

I look at the way the character is written. Of course, you have to be practical about how young you can play.

It has to be something I’m going to enjoy doing. I also like roles that are a challenge emotionally, such as Joanne in Company. I wanted to find out why she was so angry and drank. I wanted to convey the character’s emotions. It’s important to make the audience feel.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you handle an audience that doesn’t feel?

Tami Gordon Brody: Every audience is different. You get different reactions from different crowds.

A performer must listen to the audience. It’s important to be mindful of their responses. Timing is important to allow them to react. Sometimes, you may get the same reaction to a line or a moment on stage and you come to expect it.   Then you’ll get an occasional audience that doesn’t react the way you expect.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s been you’re favorite role that you’ve performed so far?

Tami Gordon Brody: Oh, Joanne in Company. But I would love to play Golde in Fiddler again. Both are iconic roles. I do enjoy playing flawed characters better than playing ‘normal’ ones. Some are just fun though.

 

Critique Compendium: Why?

Tami Gordon Brody: My Jewish upbringing. My great-grandfather grew up in a village in Russia just like Anatekvah . Golde is the character I’ve played that’s the closest to me. It was very personal.

Although, I’ve loved all the roles I’ve played. I learn things about other people by playing different characters. Some aren’t like me at all. I like learning about people and cultures. Now, in Beauty and the Beast, I’m playing an animated character.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played?

Tami Gordon Brody: Harriet in Broken Glass. That was my first straight acting role. The caliber of talent in that show was unlike anything I’d worked with before. I had to reach. It’s good to have to reach. It was hard work. I wasn’t going to be able to rely on my singing. Until then, I was more insecure about acting than singing. Although, you don’t want to see me dance. (Laughs)

 

Critique Compendium: First, allow me to wish you a belated Happy Mother’s Day. You had the experience of working with both your sons, Taylor and Evan, in: Parade. You and Taylor will be sharing the stage once again at the upcoming production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Ritz Theatre Company this summer. What was it like sharing the stage with your children?

Tami Evan and Taylor

Tami Gordon Brody: Amazing! It was the greatest experience! I’m so proud of them. They’re so talented. They’re so much more advanced than I am vocally.

Taylor and Evan got the bug. Taylor (to Ms. Brody’s left in photo) was in Fiddler on the Roof with me too. Evan (to Ms. Brody’s right) will be playing Kenickie in Grease this summer in Blackwood.

Unfortunately, (because of our theatrical schedules) sometimes we can’t always see each other’s shows. Theatre is something we share. We can lean on each other and help each other. It’s great to have this shared love with my children.

My boyfriend Glen is also an actor, and it is something that I can share with him as well. We all understand the commitment that goes into doing a show – which is a wonderful thing.

 

Critique Compendium: What performers have influenced you?

Tami Gordon Brody: I’d say Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey and Helen Mirren. They can really transform themselves into different characters; and they don’t need accoutrements to make that happen.

 

Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor either living or dead, who would it be?

Tami Gordon Brody: I’d love to work with Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and definitely Nathan Lane. His comic timing is amazing. These are people I could learn from. When I was younger the answers might not have been the same. Back then I would’ve been interested in their “star power.”

 

Critique Compendium: In addition to your busy performance schedule, you’re the Vice President of Haddonfield Plays and Players. What inspired you to take on a leadership role with that organization?

Tami Gordon Brody: I did two shows with them (Titanic and Full Monty). Dave Stavetski (the President of HP&P) got me to go to a meeting. I helped out with creating the posters in front of the theatre.  Now that I am on the board, I handle the playbills, social media, media and advertising. I’m happy to give back to them. We have an amazing leadership team. They’re a really great group of dedicated people.

Dave is very civic minded. He’s very involved in sharing the arts in South Jersey.

Our space allows for the ability to do shows that other people can’t do. For instance look at (director) Matt Weil’s innovative use of space in The Pillowman. You wouldn’t see a show like that in a larger theatre.

We have a successful StageKidz program. Last year, we switched to a five show season. We used to do seven shows. This gives us more production time for each, mainstage show. It also allows us to provide additional special programming – like our annual production of Number the Stars, as well as our successful cabaret series. Whenever I perform I think, “Look at how much I’m getting.” Being involved with HP&P gives me the satisfaction of giving back. You make connections with the other performers. Creating lasting relationships. Community theatre in South Jersey is getting stronger and stronger. So many theatres mean more opportunities for actors. There’s a lot of talent down here.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with the demands of performing in community theater productions?

Tami Gordon Brody: When I’m at work I focus on work. It all comes down to time management. Theatre teaches it. It helps with other aspects of my life. It’s a responsibility.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you prepare for a role?

Tami Gordon Brody: I write the lines on index cards. I use them for memorization.  It’s all about time management. I’ve got the instrumental rehearsal tracks of Beauty and the Beast in my car.  I sang it on the way over here.

I know I need to do my homework. I need to get past my frustration and learn what I need to know. Then I don’t have to worry about it. I need to understand the character. I need to be prepared. Sometimes it entails not only knowing my lines, but that of my fellow actors as well.

It’s not always easy to do theatre. It means something different to everyone. I’m very proud of what I do. The roles that satisfy me the most are the ones where I work the hardest.

You have to live up to the role. Golde and Joanne are iconic roles. People expect it to be a certain way. I also want to be as good as my fellow cast members. I do enjoy playing flawed characters better than playing ‘normal’ ones. Some are just fun, though.

 

Critique Compendium: This is the first time you’ve worked with director Craig Hutchings since you played Harriet in the South Camden Theatre Company’s production of Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass. What’s it like working with him again?

Tami Gordon Brody: Craig is an “actor’s director.” He’s always looking at the acting. He gives notes and character suggestions. To him, the lyric is just as important as the dialog. He brings depth to the characters.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

Tami Gordon Brody: After Beauty and the Beast I’ll be taking a rest. I would love an opportunity to assistant direct next season.  I’m hoping to be as versatile as some other theatre people. But, I like performing more. If the right role presented itself, I would definitely audition!

I can honestly say if I didn’t have theatre I’d be half a person. I don’t know what I’d be doing without it.

 

Drama Review – Three Tall Women by Edward Albee

It’s never easy to write a show with four characters with three being the same person. Edward Albee did so. After crafting such memorable shows as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? and Seascape he added the extraordinary Three Tall Women to his catalog. It provided the perfect vehicle for the playwright to exhibit the range of his genius. In addition to the creativity involved in the concept, he crafted a moving meditation on the physical and psychological effects of the aging process.

The play contained three main characters. The playwright chose not to name them; settling instead for the appellations A, B and C. It turned out that each character played the same “tall” woman at different points in her life. A was an old woman in her nineties. In the list of characters, Mr. Albee described B as “looks rather as A would have at 52; plainly dressed.” C “looks rather as B would have at 26.”

The drama commenced with A on the verge of death. The three characters discussed the key events from her life and how they led to this conclusion. The disparity in their views concretized the ways people evaluate the same events at different points in their lives.

The author animated this point very well. I especially enjoyed the exchanges between A and C on pages 104 and 105. Both admitted to each other, “I don’t like you.” I found that very interesting for two characters that were, in essence, the same person.

I liked how the author worked A’s difficulty remembering things into the story. With the way the narrative progressed I wondered if the character lacked this ability intentionally. With some of the unpleasant events that occurred during her life I could understand why. A good example took place when B expressed hatred for her own son.

(Rage) He left! He packed up his attitudes and he left! And I never want to see him again. (To him) Go away!! (Angry, humiliated, tears.) (Page 92)

I found the portion where C discussed their future husband with characters A and B the most interesting section of the play. The playwright made C a young lady of 26 years. A and B informed her that she married at 28. The characters derisively described the spouse as “little and he’s funny looking—a little like a penguin.” (Page 82) B even called him, “The little one; the little one-eyed man?” (Page 79) She added that they went on to spend forty years with one man: “more or less.” (Page 79) Under C’s questioning, she acknowledged a torrid affair during the marriage. I enjoyed how C became disgusted by the description of the husband along with her (future) behavior towards him. Of course, we know that she’s the character who went on to marry and cheat on him shortly afterwards.

I did have some issues with the dialog. I found a lot of it repetitious. I can understand that since all three characters played, in essence, the same person the playwright would choose to show that by having the individuals speak in similar ways. It did get a little tedious to read after a while.

Characters B and C also recited a line made famous by Kurt Vonnegut. They both used the expression, “And so it goes.” It really grabbed my attention. I didn’t understand if the Mr. Albee deliberately referenced Vonnegut or if he had a meaning more endemic to the play in citing him. I would’ve appreciated a clarification.

On an episode of The Simpsons, Marge told Lisa, “You could write a depressing Broadway play. It could be about people coming to terms with things.” That would serve as a good general synopsis of Three Tall Women. While a very cerebral and unhappy story, it’s still an extraordinary exploration of aging and its effects on the human psyche. If you don’t believe me, and you’re young enough, try reading it when you’re 26, 52 and 91.

Drama Review – How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel

During an interview playwright Paula Vogel expressed her debt to Vladimir Nabokov. His Lolita inspired her to craft a similar story written from the Lolita character’s point-of-view. The superb play How I Learned to Drive resulted.

I found the play’s structure outstanding. The author instructed that during the show a voice over recite messages as though coming from a driver’s education film. These included expressions such as, “Safety first – You and Driver education” (Page 9), “Shifting Forward from First to Second Gear” (Page 16) and “You and the Reverse Gear.” (Page 45) The playwright cleverly inserted these messages into places where they corresponded with the scene. As disturbing as I found the one on “Implied Consent” (Page 44), the following expressed the most troubling message.

Before You Drive.

Always check under your car for obstructions – broken bottles, fallen tree branches, and the bodies of small children. Each year hundreds of children are crushed beneath the wheels of unwary drivers in their own driveways. Children depend on you to watch them. (Page 32)

No play would be presentable without the addition of quirky and memorable characters. How I Learned to Drive didn’t lack any. This family had a very unique tradition. As the protagonist, Li’l Bit explained.

In most families relatives get names like “Junior” or “Brother” or “Bubba.” In my family if we call someone “Big Papa,” it’s not because he’s tall. In my family, folks tend to get nicknamed for their genitalia. Uncle Peck, for example. (Page 12)

The playwright provided great insights into Uncle Peck’s character through his behavior. As he taught Li’l Bit to drive, the occasions became a metaphor for their illicit relationship. He took Li’l Bit out for oysters and cocktails after she passed the driving test. (Page 17) When she was 13, he had her do a sensual photo shoot for him. He told her:

Peck:…You’re doing great work. If we keep this up, in five years we’ll have a really professional portfolio. (Li’l Bit stops.)

Li’l Bit: What do you mean in five years?

Peck: You can’t submit work to Playboy until you’re eighteen. — (Peck continues to shoot; he knows he’s made a mistake.)

Li’l Bit: –Wait a minute. You’re joking, aren’t you, Uncle Peck?

Peck: Heck, no. You can’t get into Playboy unless you’re the very best. And you are the very best. (Page 43)

It seemed very eerie to me that an adolescent girl would still address a man as “uncle” when he talked about sending erotic photos of her to a men’s magazine. I credit the playwright for crafting this scene so well. It gave readers an insight into Uncle Peck’s true nature.

But this was just warm-up depravity for Uncle Peck. He had more despicable conduct to commit. In the play’s most dramatic scene, Li’l Bit expressed her disgust in the following exchange.

Peck: — They were gifts! I just wanted to give you some little perks for your first semester—

Li’l Bit: –Well what the hell were those numbers all about! Forty-four days to go—only two more weeks.—And then just numbers –69—68—67—like some serial killer!

Peck: Li’l Bit! Whoa! This is me you’re talking to—I was just trying to pick-up your spirits, trying to celebrate your birthday.

Li’l Bit: My eighteenth birthday. I’m not a child, Uncle Peck. You were counting down to my eighteenth birthday.

Peck: So?

Lil’ Bit: So? So statutory rape is not in effect when a young woman turns eighteen. And you and I both know it. (Page 49)

The playwright added another distressing bit of realism to this story, too. In the end, Aunt Mary blamed the teenaged Li’l Bit for seducing her husband. It’s always terrible when a victim gets blamed for the crime committed against her. It’s even more awful when that sufferer is a child.

While the nature of the story made for a somber read, the playwright managed to work in some fantastic humor. My favorite occurred when Li’l Bit shared a “Mary Jane joke” with another character.

“Little Mary Jane was walking through the woods, when all of a sudden this man who was hiding behind a tree jumps out, rips open Mary Jane’s blouse, and plunges his hands on her breasts. And little Mary Jane just laughed and laughed because she knew her money was in her shoes.” (Page 37)

For Ms. Vogel’s extraordinary work, How I Learned to Drive received the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for drama. To those not familiar with it, I’d encourage these people to get in their cars. Adjust the seat. Fasten the seatbelt. Then check the right side mirror – check the left side. Finally, adjust the rearview mirror. And then—floor it to your nearest theater or bookstore.

God of Carnage by Yasmin Reza Translated by Christopher Hampton

With God of Carnage, Yasmin Reza put the drama into drama. The playwright utilized the perfect formula to do so. First, she created four quirky characters who didn’t like each other very much. Then she placed them in a confined space. To enhance the set-up she added a story spark that would lead to conflict among them. One enteraining and disconcerting play resulted.

I first have to credit the playwright for the pace. At first God of Carnage began as a civil discussion between two sets of parents. The Novak’s 11 year-old son hit the other family’s child in the mouth with a stick. The latter lost two teeth over the incident. These children’s fathers and mothers opted to have a diplomatic meeting regarding the matter. They began by calmly discussing how best to rectify the situation. As the evening progressed, their personalities became the main obstacles to reaching an understanding.

In the course of evaluating the situation the grown-ups exhibited some issues of their own. Alan, the father of the attacking boy, happened to work as an attorney. Interesting enough, he mentioned having to leave town the next day for the International Criminal Court. He represented the pharmaceutical industry in a different matter. The child’s mother, Annette suffered from a nervous stomach and, dare I write, enjoyed a bit of a nip on occasion.

Tolstoy opened Anna Karenina with the immortal line about every unhappy family being unique. That description would well-suit the Novaks. Michael worked an “ordinary job” and harbored dark thoughts regarding family life. Veronica earned a living by “writing” primarily regarding injustice in Africa. A bit of an elitist, she took her children to concerts and introduced them to art. She told her guests, “We’re eccentric enough to believe in the soothing powers of culture!” (Page 14) Ms Reza used the remainder of the play to show that naïve would’ve been a better word than eccentric.

This dialog occurred a little over ten pages into my version of the book. At that point in the reading I knew: the train wreck’s coming; a really, really nasty one.

I found God of Carnage an outstanding theatrical work. I would strongly encourage people to either read it or watch it performed. Because of that I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s enjoyment by giving away spoilers. I would mention how brilliantly the playwright crafted the Alan character. I loved how he became progressively more wedded to his cell phone as the play progressed. In the midst of serious discussions about the children, he repeatedly broke off from the conversation to discuss a business matter with colleagues. The way he dropped the f-bomb in front of everyone during one of the conversations was priceless.

The author showed extraordinary skill at foreshadowing…and displaying hypocrisy. Early in the evening Anette told the Novaks: “We can’t get involved in our children’s quarrels.” (Page 15) Very, very shortly thereafter she changed her view. It turned out the other child verbally offended her son prior to the altercation.

Annette:…(embarrassed pause.) Something occurred to me in the bathroom…

Veronica: Yes?

Annette: Perhaps we skated too hastily over…I mean…What I mean is…

Michael: Say it, Annette, say it.

Annette: An insult is a kind of assault.

Michael: Of course it is.

Veronica: Well, that depends, Michael.

Michael: Yes. It depends.

Annette: Benjamin’s never shown any signs of violence. He wouldn’t have done that without a reason.

Alan: He got called a snitch! (Pages 23 – 24)

At this point the action degenerated into Lord of the Flies with a grown-up cast. While I found the play very amusing, Ms. Reza earned credit for her trenchant depiction of human nature at its worst. During one of his numerous cell phone conversations, Alan told his wife, “Annette, right now I’m risking my most important client so this responsible parent routine…” (Page 20)

Keep in mind all this occurred PRIOR to the couples passing around the bottle of rum. Not the best idea at this point, but, after all, these weren’t the most responsible people. The alcohol really allowed the characters to release their inhibitions.

Michael: What I always say is, marriage: the most terrible ordeal God can inflict on you.

Annette: Great.

Michael: Marriage, and children. (Page 32)

Now, Michael could have stopped there, but no. He decided to elucidate his point even further.

Children consume our lives and then destroy them. Children drag us toward disaster; it’s unavoidable. When you see those laughing couples casting off into the sea of matrimony, you say to yourself, they have no idea, poor things, they just have no idea, they’re happy. No one tells you anything when you start out. I have an old school buddy who’s just about to have a child with his new girlfriend. I said to him, a child, at our age, are you insane? The ten or twelve good years we have left before cancer or a stroke, and you’re going to screw yourself up with some brat? (Page 33)

Not to be outdone, Alan shared his own enlightening view of the human condition with the group.

They’re young, they’re kids. Kids have always given each other a good beating during recess…I believe in the god of carnage. He has ruled, uninterruptedly, since the dawn of time. (Page 35)

Many adjectives could describe God of Carnage, entertaining would serve as my first choice. It did have a much more serious side to it. Ms. Reza used a school yard fight as a catalyst for a disturbing journey into the basest aspects of human nature. It’s one of those stories readers can enjoy for the simple reason they can close the book and walk away from the madness. They also don’t need to worry about the Novaks or Raleighs ever watching their kids.

Drama Review – The Flick by Annie Baker

What cinematic aficionado doesn’t long for the days when film was just that: film? Playwright Annie Baker crafted a semi-humorous take on the subject. The Flick told the story the end of an era. Avery, Sam and Rose worked in one of the last 35mm movie theaters in Worcester County, Massachusetts. They struggled to cope with an abusive boss, changing times and even each other. A charming dramatic work resulted.

The playwright selected an excellent array of characters to tell the tale. Ms. Baker made Sam a disgruntled 35 year old theater employee with a secret. The free-spirited Rose worked the old projector. Avery served as the newcomer to the group. This character wasn’t “into” movies: he “loved” the movies. (Page 12) In fact, when Sam challenged his with a host of “six degrees of separation” games, he solved them all; sometimes in less than six degrees. With that passion for cinema, a reader would suspect he’d fit right into this ensemble. Not so.

This play contained outstanding conflict. Sam and Rose informed Avery that they skimmed money from the box office. They gave this theft the more benign appellation “dinner money.” Due to the scant wages they made, these funds would help them afford meals. They expressed their expectation he would take his cut. Avery battled his own aversion to a changing society manifested through his affection for old style movie making; even calling digital film “immoral.” When a new owner purchased the theater, he wrote a letter imploring him to retain the 35mm projector. Sam felt he’d been passed over for promotion too often. I enjoyed reading how the characters coped, or didn’t, with these issues.

In addition to the drama, the playwright included a sold dose of comedy. While cleaning the theater Sam complained about all the outside food people would bring in and leave there. While visiting family out of state he caught himself doing same thing. He later lamented his hypocrisy to Avery.

I’m that douchebag who brings in random weird ethnic food into a movie theater and then forgets about it and leaves it there!

I am my own worst nightmare! (Page 73)

Ms. Baker resolved this complex story rather well. The playwright brought the points of the “dinner money”, the references to Pulp Fiction and the debate over a digital versus 35mm project to proper resolutions. It surprised me that she managed it so well.

I’ve read some criticism of the play regarding banal dialog and the characters performing too much “sweeping.” I found both appropriate for the story and characters. Both Sam and Avery enjoyed movies. The discussions allowed Avery to demonstrate his passion for them. Plus, the two men performed custodial work at a movie theater; the latter serving as the lone set in the show. Other than sitting in the seats and talking, what else could they have been doing?

The Flick entertained on both a humorous and dramatic level. It takes an extraordinary playwright to balance the two while keeping the overall narrative cohesive. For Ms. Baker’s efforts, this work received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It’s well worth a read. Don’t wait for the movie.

Drama Review – All the Way by Robert Schenkkan

What Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln did for film, Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way did for the theatre. Both works followed the journeys of American Chief Executives in the quest to pass revolutionary civil rights legislation. Mr. Schenkkan selected a much more controversial public servant for his story. While today Lyndon Baines Johnson takes the majority of blame for escalating the nation’s involvement in the Vietnam Conflict, the playwright chose to focus on the pinnacle of his domestic achievements: the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

As the child of a Vietnam Veteran, I grew up exposed to a negative take on America’s 36th President. Robert A. Caro’s four-volume (to date) biography of Johnson introduced me to his myriad complexities as both a politician and a person. I read Robert Schenkkan’s Tony Award winning play All the Way curious to discover his take on the nation’s most significant post-war leader. It didn’t disappoint.

This biographical work explored Lyndon Baines Johnson’s first year as the nation’s chief executive. It encompassed his first moments in the Presidency following the Kennedy assassination through his election to the office in 1964. The passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill served as the main story line. The play contained myriad conflict. It illustrated Johnson’s superb managing of civil rights leaders, his subordinates and reactionary Southern Democrats to get the proposal enacted into law. This made for a very engaging and tense read.

The playwright clearly performed his research. I found the portrayal of his protagonist accurate. Several times I felt like I was sharing a drink with the former President at the Johnson Ranch. I could envision LBJ saying things such as, “You can tell that Liberal crowd of yours, I’m gonna out-Roosevelt Roosevelt and out-Lincoln Lincoln!” (Location 523) and “’Politics is war by other means.’ Bullshit. Politics is war…You’re not running for office. You’re running for your life. You’re trying to cheat death.” (Location 1729)

The rattlesnake story sounded like vintage Johnson, too.

Knew a good ole boy once, caught a rattlesnake bare-handed on a dare. Stood there with that big ole thing wrapped around his arm, head snapping this way and that, with this stupid look on his face, saying “Wow! It’s a whole lot easier to catch one of these critters than it is to let it go.” (Location 605)

In Caro’s biography he quoted one person as saying, “Some people read books. Johnson read men.” Mr. Schenkkan incorporated this uncanny understanding of human nature in the drama. Here’s the President’s assessment of Senate Minority Leader Republican Everett Dirksen as told to the Floor Manager of the Civil Rights Bill: Senator Hubert Humphrey.

Let me tell you about Senator Everett Dirksen. That man is in love with himself; in love with his voice. Did you know that every day he gargles with warm water and Pond’s beauty cream? I shit you not. Now, a man like that wants one thing—he wants to be a “Great Man.” And you’re gonna give him every opportunity to do just that. Every chance you get, you praise Dirksen, you thank Dirksen. You’re gonna kiss his ass so much, he won’t be able to sit down. He wants the spotlight? Give it to him. Six months from now, all anybody will remember is that the Democratic Party passed a historic civil rights bill. (Location 1324)

The author included several famous figures among the characters; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover among them. I enjoyed the following exchange between him and LBJ. It took place following a male Presidential aide’s arrest for lewd behavior with another man. As the scandal occurred so close to the election, Johnson worried it would impact him at the polls.

LBJ: CLEAN UP YOUR MESS! I worked with that man for twenty-five years. Not a clue. (A threat.) How do you know when somebody’s that way?

J. Edgar Hoover: Well, well, there are certain signs; mannerisms. The way a man dresses or combs his hair. Or walks kind of funny.

LBJ: News to me. I’m not questioning you; I’m sure you’d know—In your line of work, I mean. Take care of this. (Location 2707)           

LBJ noted during the play: “What’s the point of bein’ President if you can’t do what you know is right?” (Location 1414) Later he added, “People think I want great power, but what I want is great solace; a little love. That’s all I want.” (Location 2433) Abraham Lincoln once commented that upon serving in the Presidency he found only “ashes and blood.” After reading All the Way, the same could be said for Lyndon Baines Johnson. Instead of adapting LBJ’s 1964 campaign slogan for the play’s title, a version of the Chinese curse “may you get what you wish for” may have been more appropriate.