CAMBRIDGE — “All the Way,” a drama chronicling a pivotal year in the life of President Lyndon B. Johnson, made its way to the American Repertory Theater all the way from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where it debuted last summer.
But for its director Bill Rauch — also the artistic director of the OSF — it is a homecoming. Rauch is a Harvard grad, as are several of the show’s behind-the-scenes players and actor Christopher Moore, Rauch’s partner of 30 years, who hails from Peabody.
“It’s amazing to be back,” says Rauch, who came to Harvard in 1980, the year the ART was founded by Robert Brustein. He recalls directing 26 shows as an undergraduate, including two on the main stage where “All the Way” will play.
He’s also excited to be reuniting with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan. They’ve worked together three times, including the 2012 premiere of “All the Way.”
“I’m proud that we’re telling a story that has urgency and is timely and that can contribute to the dialogue about where we are and how the heck we got here and where we could go from here with this play,” says Rauch.
Schenkkan, a onetime Texan, was a little boy when he met then-Senator Johnson through his father, who worked in public broadcasting.
As a writer he was intrigued by the era of Johnson’s presidency — rife with the drama of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. He was commissioned to write about a critical juncture in US history through the OSF American Revolutions project.
But Schenkkan had no idea how much resonance “All the Way” would have on the current political and national landscape, noting the range of programs that were promoted as part of LBJ’s “Great Society.”
“Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the War on Poverty, urban renewal, aid to women and infants, job programs, environmental programs, consumer protection programs, the transportation department. The list is staggering,” says Schenkkan. “And of course these are all now at the heart of this renewed, ferocious, highly partisan debate over what the government should and shouldn’t do. And what’s interesting is that, in many ways, the rhetoric that you hear today hasn’t changed in 50 years.”