There’s always been a soft spot in my heart for Harvey by Mary Chase – I’ve loved the Jimmy Stewart movie from a very young age, and thought the play was delightful since the first time I read it. I’ve spent many years away from the play, neither seeing the film or reading or seeing the play; seeing the Roundabout revival currently on Broadway left me more conscious of the play’s flaws than before, but even more conscious that the play will always transcend those flaws.
Harvey follows Elwood P. Dowd (Jim Parsons), the affable and courtly scion of a rich Denver family, whose very best friend happens to be a 6-foot-3-and-a-half inch tall, invisible white rabbit named Harvey. Elwood’s sister Veta (Jessica Hecht), embarrassed by her brother’s eccentricities, takes Elwood to the local sanatorium, but the doctors, taken aback by her high-strung behavior, commit her instead. Confusion and chaos ensue as everyone tries to catch a man and his invisible rabbit.
Director Scott Ellis showers this charming tale with affection, although it gets fuzzy in the details (which can be very dangerous in comedy). However, Ellis has a firm grip on the pace, which certainly helps, and his work is stronger in the more emotional second act. Parsons has exactly the right kind of guileless wit for Elwood, although he sometimes seems more clueless than polite, which doesn’t quite match up with what other characters say about Elwood.
The play is a little creaky in the exposition and its cartoonish portrayal of psychiatry, but Chase’s unique take on the themes of kindness and eccentricity remains powerful. I still love this play a lot, and this production, if far from perfect, still does this gem justice.
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