The goal of Mary Chase’s Harvey, written in 1944, was to alleviate some of the wartime grief of the period through comedy. Director Dennis Curley nicely emphasized that history in the programme for Redeemer’s production.
Redeemer’s production of the play worked to rediscover this conventional form of theatre, rather than interfere with the play’s comedic elements by injecting foreign artistic choices. It is the focus on the play’s original intent, as well as splendid performances by the cast, that made Harvey an enjoyable experience.
The play opens with a dinner social where Veta Simmons and her daughter Myrtle Mae discuss dignity and unrealized social life. The audience is then introduced to Veta’s brother Elwood P. Dowd, a man of significant peculiarity whose oddness is revealed to be sourced by a friendship with an “imaginary” six foot, three-and-one-half inch pooka named Harvey. Since no one but Elwood is privy to the presence of Harvey, they cause commotion and embarrassment as family and doctors attempt to admit Elwood into a sanatorium.
Rediscovering the original comedic intent of this play did not produce many unique staging or technical choices; rather, it was geared towards creating a neutral set where the actors could dominate. The functionality of the set recognized this goal with practical simplicity. The walls themselves were painted in hues of green and brown, and the doors were kept solid brown. Upon the walls were few decorations: only a painting, a fireplace, a bookshelf and a window cut into the furthest wall. Nothing could steal one’s attention away from the action of the comedy. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there was little about the set that helped to support the actors’ performances. It was an unassuming set that neither excited nor bored; rather, it was simply the environment for the action.
The play itself was characterized by the splendid performance by many of the cast. Filled with smaller roles that were executed well, the ensemble as a whole performed strongly. There were plenty of moments within “Chumley’s Rest” where ensemble members scooted through the back corridor as though they were loose patients, causing hilarious disturbances. This directorial choice was aided by retracting any serious tone, and it kept the action light and on its feet.
Despite having been born of good intentions and often working effectively, there were, however, times when this device seemed like unplanned interruptions. It made one think to compromise the quality of Chumley’s Rest, which is made explicitly known in the play. Though an interesting and humorous choice, this element felt too unpredictable.
Three of the notable performances were from Aaron Wilkinson, Jordan Guetter and Catherine McGeorge who played Elwood P. Dowd, Dr. Chumley and Veta Simmons respectively. Though these three were definitely not the only noteworthy performers, they brought a defined focus and pacing to the plot. Each actor brought a cleverly different element of comedy to the stage and complimented the other performers with it. The difference between a good performance and a great one is that a great one improves other actors’ performances as opposed to “stealing the show.” With energy fully charged, there were few dull moments on the stage.
Whether the play was being serious, exasperated, polite or pleasant, the audience relished the interaction between these characters. The moments of quick exchange were clear, which helped audience keep up with the plot. The actors made strong choices in voice and use of stage that made for an entertaining and fun experience.
Harvey was certainly enjoyable. Seeing the hard work that the crew had done come to fruition was a joy to watch. It made me proud to be able to watch the product of months of practice and smile and laugh.