Today’s the day: THE GREAT SOCIETY by Robert Schenkkan opens in the Angus Bowmer Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Is America poised for an uptick in epic historical theatre? The form is big in theatre meccas like the UK, but seems to go in and out of favor here in the US.

Given the recent Tony (and other) Awards bestowed on Robert Schenkkan’s ALL THE WAY (not to mention its record-setting box office hauls in New York), maybe theatre producers will realize that big historical stories can bring in big audiences. And having film and TV stars involved doesn’t hurt.

But it all starts with the writing. Nothing happens without good writing. Schenkkan is delivering a powerful reminder that important stories about the national experience (when done as well as these two plays are) deserve to be up on the big stage.

And that’s where visionary programs like Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle (AmRev) come in. Because of its size, abilities, and focus, OSF can do things (like birth ALL THE WAY and THE GREAT SOCIETY) that almost no one else in the US theatre ecosystem can do. And by golly, they’re doing it. From Ashland to Broadway. And beyond.

With 37 new play commissions planned, AmRev is just getting started. And there are so many more stories to tell. Ashland has everything in place locally to tell them. Except one thing – the writers. Those need to be found, encouraged, coaxed, enticed, courted, brought in. All OSF needs is one more thing – a writer – and ANY story can be told. But the writer just happens to be both the single most important element in the theatre universe – and the hardest one to find.

But if you were king or queen, and you had a good writer, what are the stories you would commission? Here’s one on my list.

Richard Holbrooke and the story of the Bosnian war

Holbrooke died young(ish) and recently, but he is such a key figure to late 20th century American diplomacy and fascinating on many levels. Pick up his book TO END A WAR to get a flavor for the man – but only if you have a big block of open time availabe. Because you’ll get pulled right in from word one.

The intersection of Holbrooke’s force of personality and character with the key event of the post Soviet order has all the drama you could ever want. Plus it’s the early 90’s so all sorts of other stuff was going on domestically.

Here’s a scene from a future play that I’d like to see. A sparsely furnished conference room at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It’s the 11th hour for negotiations to end the war, and nothing seems to be working. So the four principals gather: Holbrooke, Milosevic, Tudjman, and Izetbegovic. What was said in that room?

Wanted: the writer who can tell this story.

The main event in Ashland today

Meanwhile, back at the sun-soaked ranch in southern Oregon…

Today at 1PM the second part of Robert Schenkkan’s LBJ epic, THE GREAT SOCIETY, opens in the Angus Bowmer Theatre. Check back soon for a full review.

If you’re hoping to see this first incarnation of the show in Ashland, tickets for the remaining run through November 1 are moving briskly. Don’t miss out.

And if you’re one of those types who like to plan way, way ahead? Next year’s offering from AmRev, SWEAT by Lynn Nottage, is coming.

Oh yes.

President Johnson (Jack Willis) dictates a letter to the parents of a soldier lost in the fighting in Vietnam. Photo by Jenny Graham.
President Johnson (Jack Willis) dictates a letter to the parents of a soldier lost in the fighting in Vietnam. Photo by Jenny Graham.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Kenajuan Bentley), Vice President Hubert Humphrey (Peter Frechette) and President Johnson (Jack Willis) confer. (Ensemble, gallery, Richard Elmore, Wayne T. Carr, Jonathan Haugen) Photo by Jenny Graham.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Kenajuan Bentley), Vice President Hubert Humphrey (Peter Frechette) and President Johnson (Jack Willis) confer. (Ensemble, gallery, Richard Elmore, Wayne T. Carr, Jonathan Haugen) Photo by Jenny Graham.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Kenajuan Bentley) considers the cost of the movement. Photo by Jenny Graham.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Kenajuan Bentley) considers the cost of the movement. Photo by Jenny Graham.