all photos courtesy of Larry McGee
According to actor Jack Rabito, the one-man show titled “Give ‘Em Hell Harry” is not just for history students or “political geeks.” Rather, Rabito feels that the average New College student will enjoy the performance because it will give them a firsthand look into a president who was not only “way ahead of his time” but who “overcame so much,” a concept that nearly everybody can relate to.
“Each one of us faces obstacles that we think we can’t overcome,” Rabito said in a phone interview with the Catalyst. “And here’s a guy who everybody said was going to lose, and he won.”
Rabito went on to say that Harry Truman never doubted his ability to win, even when the polls were against him. “That comes out in the play,” Rabito noted. “And I think there’s a lesson there. Truman inspired people when he won.”
“Give ‘Em Hell Harry,” the biographical play written by Samuel Gallu back in 1975, is now coming to Sarasota’s Cook Theatre through the playhouse Whistlestop Productions, founded by both Rabito and Larry McGee, the producing director of the show. Rabito said the show has run strong for so many years because of the great script.
The one-man show, “unique in its presentation” according to Rabito, has the actor by himself on stage as Truman, though he constantly interacts with other invisible characters. The role, which Rabito describes as the most challenging one he’s accepted in all his years of acting, took three months to get down.
“It was an intense project,” Rabito explained. “But now it’s at the stage where it’s just enjoyable to perform. It’s been challenging but rewarding.
“It’s terrible for an actor when he has nothing to develop,” Rabito continued. “And in this play there’s so much to create and develop within the storyline.”
Rabito acted in college before settling down in a career as a radio broadcaster. It wasn’t until 1990 that he got back into theater after a friend and he happened to walk by an advertisement for the play, “The Diary of Anne Frank.” On a whim the two decided to audition and each ended up with a role in the show, prompting Rabito to re-enter the world of acting. After performing in more than 50 shows nationwide, Rabito now finds himself giving voice to a very complex character.
“The play is not a cardboard rendition of the character at all,” Rabito said of his depiction of Truman. “It’s really a flesh and blood presence.”
Rabito also stressed that the play is not a historical drama during which people will fall asleep in the first twenty minutes. On the contrary, “the play is very entertaining because Harry has a real sense of humor,” Rabito assured the Catalyst. “People probably don’t know him historically as being that kind of person.”
The show also has many components and moves very quickly so as to keep the audience engaged and entertained. Along with the humorous aspects of the play, there are some serious moments as well. “We do some scenes that are very powerful regarding Harry’s stand against the Ku Klux Klan,” Rabtio explained.
He added that Truman’s campaign was one of the first in which there was no media involved. “Television was just coming along,” he commented. “Media didn’t really get involved in politics until the Eisenhower administration.”
Students are also going to get a look into how campaigning worked in Truman’s time. “[The audience] is going to understand how politics were back then,” Rabito said. “It was centered on the people.”
Rabito last performed the show at State College of Florida in Venice, where the student reception was very positive. Some students were reluctant to leave for classes before the show was over.
“It was interesting to talk to [the students] afterwards,” Rabito remembered. “They were thankful they got to know about this president in a way that they didn’t from history books.”
“Give ‘Em Hell Harry” will debut at the Cook Theatre on Sun., May 6.
(At the time of the interview, only 10 tickets were left for the 2:00 p.m. show. Therefore, an 8:00 p.m. show has been added with rush tickets at $15 for students.)