Give ‘Em Hell, Harry
By Peggy Sue Dunigan
Speaking directly, loudly and customarily cursing, Harry S. Truman’s voice and words ring shockingly true and remain relevant in the production of Give ‘Em Hell, Harry that opened at the Boulevard Ensemble Studio Theatre November 8. The audience in the packed space greatly appreciated those words, generously sprinkled with humor and truth, both of which marked Truman’s life.
Moving through the time and space of Truman’s adult years on stage, Don Devona aptly caries the one man show. Dapper in a taupe double breasted suit, Devona appears both presidential and genuinely familiar, although slightly frail. The production builds steam through the second act as Truman reminisces about the “whistle stop” campaign of 1948, ending vibrantly as he struts with his walking cane on the streets of his hometown Independence, Missouri.
Opening on the day after an election that witnessed the Democrats making stunning gains, Give ‘Em Hell, Harry surprises with the timelessness of the truths expressed. Truman begins as he describes his first political campaign for county judge of Jackson County (“a new war of words instead of guns” ) after returning from France in World War I.
And facing war for a third time as he utters these thoughts on Korea: “Damn Korea thing…blowing up in our faces.” Truman again could well be verbalizing current events, such as North Korea’s recent experiments with their own nuclear bomb in 2006. However, it’s the Korean War of 1950 to which he’s referring. “We weren’t there to win. What were we there for? To stop something. Preserve the peace of the world.” Has this been said before? Or is he speaking to the reality of war and “the innocent lives of American men and women are being destroyed. It’s a tragedy.” A tragedy, similar to 1940, 1950, decades later in Iraq; the same truths exist.
As the play continues traveling through Truman’s life, whether spewing political or personal wisdom, the audience is left wondering what, if anything, has changed. For Truman addresses corruption in business, dirty politics, racism, falsified bids, public housing and the minimum wage. All timely subjects for any current political arguments. Speaking like a true Democrat to the Republicans 60 years ago, Truman says, “I’m not giving ‘em hell. I’m just telling them the truth to make them feel like they’re living in hell.” VS
Give ‘Em Hell, Harry runs through November 19 at the Boulevard Ensemble Studio Theatre in Bay View. Tickets: $20.00 by reservation. Please call 414-744-5757 for details.