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In the Spring of 08, The Missouri History Museum announced they were going to present a Performing Arts Series in 08/09, offering theatre from St. Louis companies. With the presidential campaign in full bloom, “Give ‘Em Hell Harry,” the one-man show about Harry Truman sprang immediately to mind.
I’d done the show once before, in ’92, for The Orthwein Theatre. Now, I was nearer his age in the show, Truman was already being cited by many candidates and pundits, and I wanted to do my part for the Democrats (as I’d done for Clinton in ’92.) It was another one-man show, but it was the right thing to do. My proposal was accepted by The Museum, and preparations began.
It started with some judicious editing of the script, and once more engaging Sarah Whitney to direct. Though fearing she was getting as tired of me in one-man shows as I was, this was an opportunity for her to work with me in a real theatre, with real technical resources.
As we neared production, together we assembled a crack production team (Karl Kissman for an ingenious set, Megan Vickers as a rock-steady stage manager, Betsy Krausnick from the Rep for costumes, and my commercial tv production compadre, Breezy, for hair and makeup.)
Everyone did splendid work (including Sarah and I in long rehearsals), DVDs of collected Truman speeches were studied, and heading into the run, we were ready.
Audiences and critics agreed. Reviews were solid, and the audiences kept growing.
Doing Truman in this part of the country obviously helped, and there are still a lot of people around who remember him.
Older folks made up the bulk of our crowds, but there were many instances cited of high school age kids attending with grandparents, and people of all ages with an appreciation for and interest in history.
Everyone had a good time with Harry, and several comments made that, even with people in the audience who knew me, they quickly forgot it was me and focused on Truman.
Those reviews (as well as the enthusiastic appreciation offered by Ernest, a Missouri History Museum security guard) were the best I could have received.


Give 'Em Hell, Harry'
By Judith Newmark
POST-DISPATCH THEATER CRITIC
02/17/2009

Solo performers deserve credit for sheer nerve if nothing else. The idea of going out on stage alone — nobody to play off of, no one to help if you run into trouble — has the potential to ratchet stage fright up to a whole new level.

Yet in recent seasons, veteran St. Louis actor Joe Hanrahan has made one-man shows his specialty. Why he wants to do this, who can say? But as long as he carries it off with the aplomb he brings to "Give 'Em Hell, Harry," we have no intention of telling him that it's a risky business.

Many one-man shows come from the theatrical fringe. But this portrait of President Truman is a pretty straightforward historical drama. Written by Samuel Gallu and directed by Hanrahan's frequent collaborator, Sarah Whitney, it etches a bright portrait of a good man trying to do a tough job under often trying circumstances.

In the play, the president muses about his life and occasionally talks to other people. (They are invisible. It takes about two seconds to get used to these one-sided conversations; after that, they're easy to follow.) It covers a lot of territory, from his service in World War I to his confrontation with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, from his showdown with the Ku Klux Klan to his private confrontations with the imposing ghost of his predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt.

Hanrahan gives a lively performance, moving easily from topic to topic, evoking the president's plain-spoken manner and, at times, his hot temper. If you have seen Hanrahan in other shows, you probably never thought he looked like Truman, but it's amazing what a comb, a pair of glasses and an old-fashioned suit can do.

It's nice that the show, presented by the new Performing Arts Series at the Missouri History Museum, is playing in the Lee. That's where Historyonics used to perform. Fans of that troupe, which based all its shows on historical characters and events, will want to return to the Lee for this production, very much in the same spirit.


Give 'Em Hell, Harry'
by Dennis Brown
Riverfront Times

Give 'Em Hell Harry This feel-good evening about Harry Truman leaves viewers with a nostalgic smile for an era (that might not ever have existed) when presidents governed by the courage of their convictions, polls be damned. Author Samuel Gallu's one-man show has cobbled together two acts of anecdotes and laugh lines that portray this Cold War warrior with all the edge of a well-worn bedroom slipper. Gallu fills his script with the stock conventions of a solo evening: lots of phone calls, conversations with people who are not onstage. Happily, the one person who is there is Joe Hanrahan, who impersonates America's 33rd president with relish. He's clearly having a good time, and so does the audience. Directed by Sarah Whitney and performed by the Midnight Company.


Give 'Em Hell, Harry'
KDHX
Reviewed by Sheila Schultz

"Honest politician" is considered by many to be an oxymoron. Graft, fraud, credibility gaps and other flimflam have plagued politics at all levels. Harry Truman, our 33rd president, was a refreshing change. Plain-spoken and unwilling to tolerate corruption, nevertheless he managed to rise from the ranks of local politics to the U.S. senate. Those who express astonishment at the presidential accomplishments of this "failed haberdasher" forget his prior record of military and political service.

He cussed up a storm, imbibed hard liquor and made no effort to conceal these vices. One sin he couldn't abide was phoniness. Truman was a common man with no pretensions. During his presidential campaign against Thomas Dewey, he addressed nearly 15 million Americans on his whistle stop tour across the country. While Dewey consulted the experts, Truman consulted the people ... and won the election.

Give 'em Hell Harry! is a delightful one-man show based on the career of this remarkable man. Joe Hanrahan inhabits the persona of Harry Truman. The show is pure entertainment. The role fits the actor like his meticulously tailored suits (Betsy Krausnick, Costume Designer). Breezy's hair and make-up design complete the physical transformation.

Playwright Samuel Gallu creates a seamless portrayal of Truman's political journey, illuminating the character through a series of one-sided telephone conversations and interviews with historical figures; excerpts from stump speeches and plenty of direct commentary to the audience. Gallu gathered his research from the Truman Library and interviews with friends, family and colleagues of the president.

The monologue's dry humor is culled mostly from Truman's legacy of quips, gibes and anecdotes. His speech is not obfuscated by political correctness, although he claims his wife, Bess, finally convinced him to substitute the word "manure" for its cruder expletive.

Transparency is Truman's modus operandi, but his blunt manner is often tempered with wit. He quips, "God may have built the earth in six days, but that was certainly before labor unions."

Hanrahan's deadpan delivery is engaging despite of a few trips of the tongue. His appeal, like that of Truman is not diminished by lack of perfection. Who among us could have faced General Douglas MacArthur or Joseph Stalin without the jitters? Or Truman's toughest critic, his mother-in-law.

Act I commences in the Oval Office in 1946, the year after Truman inherits the presidency. Before taking the office, he'd never imagined himself in this exalted role. He explains, "I was just in the right place at the wrong time" and claims to have heard himself described as His Accidency.

Truman's sense of humor must have helped him cope with the enormous pressures of office. During his presidency, he was faced with momentous decisions regarding the end of WWII, the Cold War and the Korean War.

This production excels in simplicity, pacing and continuity thanks largely to director Sarah Whitney. No gimmickry interferes with the material or the acting. Karl Kissman's ingenious set facilitates the flow from one scene to the next. The afternoon I attended, the biggest laugh of the show occurred after Truman's quip, "Banks - boy, there's a bunch of crooks for you!" History lessons have never been so enjoyable.


Reviews by Joe Pollack
KWMU Theatre & Film Critic

Political theater comes to the History Museum with Joe Hanrahan in a one-man show, "Give ‘Em Hell, Harry," a Truman tale by Samuel Gallu. Hanrahan has Truman’s pacing down pat, his flat accent in excellent style, and Gallu’s play, which touches on some of the high and low spots of the career of the man from Independence, is a fine evening of theater.

The last American president who never went to college, Truman showed hard-edged honesty in dealing with Douglas MacArthur, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and others, a lack of language niceties in many situations. As he tells it, Bess was asked why he used the word "manure," and replied she had spent 40 years trying to get him to upgrade to that descriptive. Good entertainment, a fine look at Missouri’s only president, w ho used the Missour-ee pronunciation for his home state.


Review By Ladue News
Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!

Written by Samuel Gallu, Give ‘Em Hell, Harry! is a one-man show about the life of Harry S Truman, native Missourian and 33rd president of the United States. Act I begins in the Oval Office in 1946, during Truman’s first term in office, when as vice president he succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt upon the latter’s death in 1945. Act II takes place in the Oval Office starting in 1950, during Truman’s second term and only elected one as Commander-in-Chief.

As Truman recalls his youth, marriage to Bess Wallace and life as a failed haberdasher and then a member of the powerful Pendergast Democratic machine in Kansas City, the play moves between reminiscences of his life in Missouri as well as his meetings and confrontations with Winston Churchill, Douglas MacArthur, Joseph McCarthy, Herbert Hoover, George Marshall, Joseph Stalin and other titans of the 20th century.

Highlights: Joe Hanrahan, founder of the Midnight Company, has performed this role before, as well as a number of other one-man works such as St. Nicholas and The Good Thief. Hanrahan, with hair shorn short and gray, has a closer look to the plain-speaking chief executive than in his earlier portrayal, but what’s consistent is his comfort with the words and personality of the man who said, “You can’t get rich in public service unless you’re a crook.”

While Hanrahan is engaging relaying amusing stories such as Truman threatening a Washington Post music critic who lambasted the performance of his daughter, Margaret, or recalling how it took Bess 40 years to get him to say ‘manure’ instead of another familiar word, what’s most appealing about this production is its ‘curio’ effect. It’s a nostalgic look at a time when the president wrote his own letters, affixed his own stamps, mowed his own lawn back in Independence and strolled around Washington like the everyday sort of guy he was. Those times are long gone, and that’s too bad.

Other Info:Sarah Whitney directs in straightforward, brisk fashion, and keeps the goings-on interesting by having Hanrahan perform in three areas on stage, thanks to Karl Kissman’s set design that brackets the Oval Office desk with on one side a podium at which Truman makes speeches against the Ku Klux Klan or his famous whistle-stop campaign in 1948, and on the other a collection of artifacts that includes depictions of luminaries such as FDR and MacArthur to embellish Truman’s recollections with them.

Betsy Krausnick’s costume design smartly adorned Hanrahan in dapper, mid-20th century suits, Breezy provided the 1940s era haircut and Marc Moore added appropriate lighting. All in all, a pleasant rendition filled with an abundance of anecdotes (some coming a bit too often and repetitively) of a down-home sort who took his homespun philosophy and candor to a world stage.

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5


By Judith Newmark
POST-DISPATCH THEATER CRITIC
02/13/2009

Versatile Joe Hanrahan, actor, playwright, director and one of the founders of the Midnight Company, has made one-man shows his specialty in recent years.

He has portrayed characters including a brutal Irish thug, an inexplicably lonely man, a suburban murder victim, several serious substance abusers and (how could we forget?) a theater critic who takes up with a gang of vampires.

With that kind of repertory, Hanrahan's decision to play President Harry S Truman sounds positively … normal. He considers it timely.

"In the last election, there wasn't a single candidate who didn't mention Truman," Hanrahan said. "The thing that fascinates me is the journey he took from a rural Missouri farm, and everything that implies, to 1945, when he became the only man who ever nuked anybody, and beyond through the end of the war and the start of the Cold War era. His psychological journey staggers me."

Written by Samuel Gallu and directed by Sarah Whitney, "Give 'Em Hell, Harry" is part of the Missouri History Museum's new Performing Arts Series. That means it will be staged where Historyonics, the still-lamented troupe that specialized in history-based drama, used to perform. Hanrahan thinks it remains an apt venue. (The series continues in April with Avalon Theatre Company's production of "Quilters," a play with music about pioneer women.)

"I think our set is going to be unique," Hanrahan said. "It's as if you're partly in a room with Truman, partly in a museum storeroom where you are just observing him."

To prepare for the production, Hanrahan watched videos of Truman and listened to recordings of his speeches.

"Harry Truman had a very flat Missouri voice. I wanted to get that twang and tone, at least a little bit," he said. "I am not a dead ringer for him, but the costumes and the glasses do a lot.

"I don't want people to think of me up there. I want them to forget about me and hear the man."

 

 

 


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