Bill Hartnett as Harry S. Truman in GIVE 'EM HELL HARRY.

"Give 'em Hell, Harry!"

Bill Hartnett as Harry S. Truman taking on the KKK in GIVE 'EM HELL HARRY.

Bill Hartnett as Harry S. Truman on his "Whistle Stop Tour" in GIVE 'EM HELL HARRY.



"Truman's legacy worth reliving on stage "
August 31, 2002
By Mary Young

Perhaps the idea of viewing a one-man show about the life and times of President Harry S. Truman doesn't sound terribly compelling. Were it not for the fact that I already had witnessed another one-man play about the life of President Teddy Roosevelt, I might have thought the same thing. I certainly wasn't around when either of these men were president. What little I did know about them was left over from history classes taken years ago and educational television I happen to breeze over while on my way to the food channel.

But these plays were obviously conceived for a reason - because certain men led inspiring, memorable lives worth reliving onstage.

And it isn't a unique plot or original dialogue that makes these shows interesting; it's that the material and characters are taken straight from our country's history. These individuals helped shape the world we live in, and their words still have the power to influence us today. Truman said we must keep our youth "enthusiastic about the history of our country."

Well, this play might be one way to do it.

GIVE 'EM HELL HARRY," written by Samuel Gallu and produced by Gordon Productions, is a brief glimpse into the experiences and psyche of our 33rd president.

We tag along on 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. We are treated to a walk down memory lane as he relives his moments with the "Dizzy D's," as a proud store owner and builder of roads, and when he stands courageously toe-to-toe against the Ku Klux Klan.

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 tasked with playing the role of Truman.

Bill Hartnett, a professional actor from Cincinnati, was certainly up to the job and portrayed Truman with ease and the right touch of a Missouri accent.

Hartnett nicely illustrated Truman's sense of humor throughout the dialogue, which made him very likeable. He just as effectively demonstrated anger and deep fear as he single-handedly faced down a group of racists who once threatened his life.

He truly looked the part, but more importantly moved about with confidence and great care to the details that made his performance all the more real.

Even the most seemingly ordinary gesture, such as licking a stamp, seemed to elicit a favorable response from the audience.

Only a couple of the speeches were a little less interesting to listen to than others, but for the most part, Hartnett kept the play humming, particularly with Truman's memorable quotes and very "colorful" language.

GIVE 'EM HELL HARRY will continue at Lincoln's New Salem Visitors Center Theater tonight at 8 and Sunday at 6 p.m. Call 632-4000 for tickets.

Mary Young is a free-lance arts reviewer and can be reached at