Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston convinced me last night that the Golden Age of Television is making its way into the Golden Age of Theater. Wow, can he act. I know all the Breaking Bad mega-fans are saying I told you so. Don't worry, I'm catching up on the season. Last night at a preview for the new play All The Way, sitting in a small auditorium filled with residents of the Republic of Cambridge, I watched a hard-talking, hard-drinking, and son-of-Texas cowboy -- anointed forever in history as President LBJ -- walk me through the year 1964, alongside Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Act and the loss of the democratic party's last known dominance in the south. I was exhausted for him. As LBJ might say, "It was a hell of a performance, Bird."
Bryan Cranston's debut at Harvard's American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) is the opportunity to see one of the most intense actors on TV transform into President Lyndon B. Johnson and deliver again and again, over a marathon three-hour performance. What is most startling to those of us who weren't alive in 1964 (that feels good), is how one single year staged some of the largest characters of American 20th century democracy: JFK and his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird, and southern Senator of great power, Richard Russell. Most of these characters are older and the congressman and senators on stage where played by aging men and Cranston carries them with him without overpowering a cast of equally belligerent and passionate orators who by the end, I worried would all have a heart attack.
Tickets for the short four-week performance are already trading on Craig's List for $400 a pair. Tickets to the A.R.T. are usually as low as $25 and once the show opens tonight, standing room tickets will be available each day at noon.
How Tony Award Wining Director Diane Paulus, the residing Artistic Director at the A.R.T. and fellow New Yorker, convinced Cranston to come to Harvard at the height of his television career and deliver to a sold out performance schedule is beyond me or perhaps proof of where theater is heading.
Speaking of the golden age, alcoholic beverages are allowed in the auditorium at the A.R.T. but smuggling anything stronger, unlikely. However, my friend did notice a nice Scotch being poured. You might need one for this performance and fit right into the era. I wonder what they will say 50 years from now when they reflect back on the power of the year 2013? Financial disparity, Obamacare, a frozen Congress, Syria and the potential for the first woman President -- there's a lot for Walter White to play with. Whatever the venue, I hope he does.
All The Way opens at the American Repertory Theater tonight.