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Mr. President Part II: Wild About Harry!

It became another labor of love, a true joy to perform Harry Truman in front of folks who knew about him, remembered him, had actually met him, and hungered for his simple, straight forward words and presidential policies.
With the expert help of Betsy Krausnick’s costumes, Breezy’s hair and makeup design, and, of course, the production surrounding me directed by Sarah Whitney, I felt literally empowered to bring this story forth.  And the visceral appreciation that came back my way every night made all the labor worthwhile.
As with most shows, I learned a few things during this production:
   About Presidents – Sarah pushed this many times during the production, via direction to me and staging, but the “Buck Stops Here” aspect of the Presidency hit home.  Truman cited it in the script – “There always plenty to do (in this job).  Though no matter what you do, there’s some son-of-a-bitch who won’t like it.  It’s got to be the hottest kitchen in the world.”  And, “It’s the isolation in this office, the fact that you lose touch with people.” (Probably doing a one-man version of the Truman story helped underscore this solitude.)  And there was no scene more indicative of this presidential fate than when Truman was reviewing his (and his alone) decision to use Atomic Weapons to end
WW II.
About People and Politics -  There was an undercurrent of genuine enthusiasm that ran through our crowds.  You could tell in the pre-show murmurs, the real desire to laugh with Harry and his anecdotes, and a perceived feeling that Truman was one of them, someone they could identify with and celebrate.  And this undercurrent was manifested in one of those shows where people felt comfortable talking out loud during the show:  maybe it was the political theme, their comfort level with this character and his life and times, maybe they thought they were watching the history channel at home – there were audible “Look at those shoes!” every time Harry stepped from behind the presidential desk and revealed his snappy, two-tone spectator shoes.
About Acting – This was one of the toughest shows I’ve ever done – not only a one-person show, but one portraying a real and very recognizable person.  I worked and fretted constantly about his voice, his look, his posture, his movement.  And the show was also tough from its sheer length and what it took to bring it home every night.
I learned and understood more than ever about commitment to a role and a production.  I think I satisfied that most nights, and hope I can carry that with me in future roles.
About Harry -  The more I dug into rehearsal, the script and the role, the more I fell under Truman’s spell, the more I appreciated his rise from a 19th century Missouri farm,
his work ethic, his principles, his good nature, and his courageous performance – everywhere from a WWI battlefield to the bloody battles of presidential politics.  He seemed, more than most characters I’ve played, a good man.  And, of course, I realized he was a real (and good) man.  I felt, in playing him, that I had something to live up to.
As Harry indicated in the play about his role as President, I went ahead and did the best I could as Harry:
           
“There’s lots of other folks could do a better job, but since it’s mine to do,
              you’ll get the best I’ve got.  I’ve never worried about what I don’t have.
              I just try to do the best with what I’ve got.”  

 


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Revised: October, 2007
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