Sunday, November 07, 2004

Give 'Em Hell Harry (Actors' Summit)

Harry Truman appears at Actors' Summit

It only takes a few minutes into ‘GIVE ‘EM HELL HARRY,’ now on stage at Actors’ Summit Theatre, for the viewer to forget that it’s Wayne Turney speaking to us and not the 33rd President of the United States.

Every wonder where the phrase, “Give ‘em Hell, Harry” originated? Legend tells us that during a speech by Truman attacking the Republicans during the 1948 Presidential election campaign a supporter yelled out, "Give 'em Hell, Harry!". Truman replied, "I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell." Subsequently, "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" became a lifetime slogan for Truman supporters.

‘GIVE 'EM HELL HARRY’ was written by Samuel Gallu. It allows us to share in many of Truman's biographical high points: his diplomatic and emotional handling of the Korean War; deciding to drop the atomic bomb; and managing less-than-kind critics, including one who criticized his daughter’s musical debut. We are treated to a walk down memory lane as he relives his moments with the "Dizzy D's," an army group he whipped into action during World War II, as a proud builder of roads who defied political pressure to give contracts to those who tried to gain favors by political connections (think Halliburton circa 2004), when he stands courageously toe-to-toe against the Ku Klux Klan and when he fires General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination.

We also witness Truman mowing the lawn, chatting with reporters and making conversation with people on the street. We even see a beaming Truman, after he had won re-election, as he holds up the famous edition of The Chicago Tribune whose headline declared, "Dewey Defeats Truman."

The key component in bringing all of this to life is the man who plays the role of Truman. And Turney is a wonderful choice. He so skillfully wraps himself in the role that Truman’s words and ideas are all the audience experiences. This is a wonderful history lesson and an examination of the little man from Missouri who “shot from the lip” and took personal responsibility for his actions. As the sign on his desk states, “The buck stops here.” Truman put himself on the line for what he believed in, not for what was necessary to win an election. He was not a man who allowed someone else to plot his campaigns. He was not a man who backed down from his beliefs in a liberal philosophy which included equal rights for all. This is the man that Turney so compellingly captures that he makes the entire experience a personal triumph.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Perhaps the idea of viewing a one-man show about the life and times of President Harry S. Truman doesn't sound terribly compelling. Well, in the capable hands of Turney it becomes a captivating experience. As the late-President might have said, “This is one hell of a show.”