At the Washington premiere of “The Great Society,” a play about President Lyndon B. Johnson, there were plenty of political plot twists happening offstage.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who received Arena Stage’s American Voice Award for her advocacy of the arts and arts education, was honored after Thursday night’s show. And thanks to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tying up the spending bill, prompting a partial government shutdown for a few hours overnight, she was able to actually watch the entire play without running out early and heading to the Hill for a vote.
First published in 2014, the play — a sequel to Robert Schenkkan’s Tony-winning “All the Way” — has more than a few lines that collide with current-day events, including the GOP’s embrace of law and order as a defining characteristic.
One of the most surreal moments came during an Oval Office scene at the very end, when Johnson (played by Jack Willis) accuses Richard M. Nixon (played by Cameron Folmar) of sabotaging the peace process in Vietnam.
When Nixon fired back, “I’m just guessing here, but whatever information you think you recovered, did you acquire that, maybe, by illegally wiretapping my campaign?” a murmur rippled through the audience.
And a moment later, when Johnson asks, “And what are you going to do now that you’re here?” Nixon replies, “The same thing as you, Mr. President; I’m going to change this country. I’m going to make it great again.”
Plenty of audience members laughed; a few groaned. But for anyone checking, Schenkkan wrote those words long before Donald Trump used them as his campaign mantra.