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GIVE ‘EM HELL, HARRY! at Kenan’s Taylor Theater is absolutely first rate in every way, except run is too short (closing Sunday)

THE BASICS:  GIVE ‘EM HELL, HARRY, a one-man 1975 play by Sam Gallu (originally written for James Whitmore) presented by The Kenan Center, starring David Lundy, has two more performances, Saturday April 27 at 7, and Sunday April 28 at 2 at the Kenan Center’s Taylor Theater, 433 Locust Street in Lockport (433-2617). Complimentary wine and bottled water with donations. www.kenancenter.org Runtime: 2 hours with one intermission, add 15 minutes for talk-back.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This play cleverly weaves together a number of stories about and quotes from the 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, who came to the office upon the death of FDR. During his tenure, Truman had to wrestle with such weighty matters as living with the decision to bomb Japan, and other vexing problems such as containing both Senator Joe McCarthy and General Douglas MacArthur, settling national labor strikes, ending the Korean War, not to mention running a famous election campaign. The play never drags, and moves along as Truman addresses some folks on the phone, many “in person” in the oval office, some from the back of a train during his whistle stop campaign, and occasionally directly to the theater audience, as the evening alternates between impassioned speeches, warm reminiscences, and folksy humor.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The last time that David Lundy performed GIVE ‘EM HELL, HARRY! at The New Phoenix Theatre I was unable to attend and had been waiting for a second chance (and, admittedly, dropping encouraging hints when I occasionally ran into Lundy). Well, it was everything I had hoped for and more. As a play, it has a very satisfying ebb and flow that is entirely entertaining on its own, and no prior knowledge is needed. As a baby boomer who identified with JFK, in truth I wasn’t even born during the Eisenhower years, but am actually a Truman era baby. Yet, sadly, I really knew very little about him.

Well, what Lin-Manuel Miranda did for Alexander Hamilton, playwright Sam Gallu and actor David Lundy have done for #33. The play makes you proud to be an American.

The audience was of mixed ages, yet the biggest laughs came from a group of 20-somethings sitting to my right. So, it would seem to have universal appeal.

The title comes from Truman’s 1948 campaign. He was attacking Republicans when a supporter shouted “Give ’em Hell, Harry!” and Truman replied, “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them, and they think it’s Hell.”

The printed program has a long list of “Special Thanks To” people, so I’m not sure exactly where Lundy, who self-produced the show, came up with the props, the set (including the famous “The buck stops here” sign on the old wooden desk), and the costumes (with that characteristic wide brimmed hat that from across a crowded theater just announced “Harry Truman”) but in was a first rate production.

Technical Support credits went to Samantha Kioeli and Barrett Lloyd. When it’s a one-man show those SFX and lighting cues have to be perfect, and they were.

At the talk-back Lundy said that he had gotten some nice collaborative direction from fellow actor Peter Palmisano and encouraged folks to see Palmisano in the play at Road Less Traveled Productions called THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW which is up through May 19. Lundy himself will be at RLTP as part of “Curtain Up!” in THE AUTHENTIC LIFE OF BILLY THE KID. Sooner than that, next month he will be at Jewish Repertory Theatre in LOOKING THROUGH GLASS.

Ever gracious, Lundy also mentioned Mike Randall who also does one-man shows (such as MARK TWAIN LIVE!) and encouraged folks to see Randall next time he offers one of those.

But there are still two more chances to see Lundy in GIVE ‘EM HELL, HARRY!

UP NEXT: It seems that the “Carriage House Players” have been busy and have a three-play season planned next year in the “Taylor Theater” on the Kenan Center campus, so look for that. The theater, which, depending on where you live, is about a 30 to 40-minute drive from Buffalo is a little out-of-the-way gem. It’s a reconverted old red brick carriage house, with some of the old woodwork and beams exposed, with a thrust stage, and incredibly comfortable seating.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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