In our current political mess, it’s soothing to know that things have been worse – a lot worse. President Lyndon B. Johnson faced a brutal war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities and the assassination of Martin Luther King in the space of a few years during his terms in office. It’s fertile territory for a drama, and Robert Schenkkan‘s The Great Society, which premiered on Broadway at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater this week, brings the maelstrom that Johnson faced in the Oval Office into sharp dramatic focus. Brian Cox (Succession) does an admirable job of bringing to life the great Texan politician as he muscles through the Voting Rights Act, outfoxing rivals Bobby Kennedy (Bryce Pickham) and George Wallace (David Garrison) and faces the ever-escalating tragedy of Vietnam, which eventually fells his career.


Great Society crams in a huge amount of history in its two-hour and 40-minute runtime, which is both a virtue and dramatic obstacle to character exposition. But the sheer force of Cox’s performance and the fascinating subject matter of those turbulent times make this production a big winner – though Johnson himself could never claim that title.

Great Society runs through Jan. 19 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.