Give ’Em Hell, Harry

Rated 4.0 Harry Truman is a fascinating individual out of our history and heartland—a famously plainspoken man who survived the battlefields of WWI, made a few bad career moves afterwards, then eventually achieved local and regional success in politics (staring down the local KKK), becoming senator from Missouri. Which got Truman named in 1944 as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s running mate—some say a back room deal, displacing FDR’s vice president from the 1940 election, the progressive Henry Wallace.Give ’Em Hell, Harry is a one-man show—the script is around 30 years old—that celebrates Truman and his times, which encompassed the Roaring ’20s, the birth of jazz (not that Truman “got it,” but coming from the outskirts of Kansas City, he somehow figured out the basics), the Great Depression and America’s role as an ascendant superpower.

The production at the Thistle Dew Dessert Theatre features local actor Joe Larrea. Playing Truman is no easy stretch; those who look back to actual history—in preference to pop-culture displacement and backfill—know how the genuine article moved and spoke. This poses a high-wire act for a solo performer, but Larrea does well, dwelling on the common elements. Director Stephen Vargo, whose portrayal of a drunken English professor was a highlight of Chautauqua Playhouse’s production of William Inge’s Bus Stop earlier this year, proves skillful behind the scenes in this show—which makes a fine companion piece to the B Street’s current production of Last Train to Nibroc, set in the same era.