Playwright Mary Chase
By Mary Chase
Directed by Hallie Dizdarevic
Review by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2014, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
Full disclosure: Harvey is my favorite play. It could well be the most perfect stage comedy ever written, and well deserving of the Pulitzer Prize it won in 1945. It manages to be funny with a straight face, telling an absurd story in a manner that is believable and real, finding the humor in the story naturally and without resorting to the door-slamming extremes of a typical stage farce. Considering the title character is a six-foot invisible rabbit, that’s really saying something! It also delivers a wonderful message, that if you don’t take life too seriously, the world can be a happy place to live in.
You can’t help but love the central character, lonely bachelor Elwood P. Dowd; he’s unflappably upbeat at all times and never seems to let life get him down. His attachment to his imaginary friend, the titular rabbit, is a constant thorn in the side of his socialite sister Veta and awkward niece Myrtle Mae. It’s a harmless eccentricity, but when Elwood embarrasses Veta by interrupting Myrtle Mae’s coming out party by introducing Harvey to all the guests, it’s the last straw. Veta tries to have Elwood committed, but things don’t work out quite the way she hopes they will. Elwood and Harvey seem to have the effect of changing for the better the lives of each new character they meet, and we find that Harvey may not be quite as imaginary as we are first led to believe.
Mary Chase wrote the play for the sole purpose of giving America something to smile about after the horrors of World War II and it was an instant hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1945. It has been adapted for film and TV many times (most notably giving Jimmy Stewart his most iconic role in the 1950 film) and has been revived for the stage countless times (including a musical version in 1981!). Probably every theater company in Louisville has mounted it at least once.
Currently, the talented, student actors at Walden Theater are presenting it. And for the most part, these young performers get it right, particularly Aaron Roitman as Elwood. His take on the character is unlike any I’ve seen before, very animated and excitable. The rest of the cast is enjoyable in their characters as well, with particularly nice work by Catherine Young as Myrtle Mae and Kellen Murphy as Dr. Sanderson. My only critique to the cast in general is they need to watch their diction; more than a couple of times they got excited and their words became garbled; I think their brains were working faster than their tongues could keep up with!
Donna Lawrence-Downs’ costumes and Alec Volz and Clayton Marshall’s set design set a nice period feel, and Hallie Dizdarevic’s direction kept the show nicely paced. The makeup was a little harsh, especially on the kids playing the older characters; the age lines that were drawn on looked just like that, lines on their faces. Probably not even necessary, since the gray in their hair and the actors’ performances were enough to convey the age of their characters.
It’s a nice production of a legendary play, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you haven’t checked out what happens with the young actors learning their craft at Walden, this would be the perfect show to start with. Well done!
Featuring Ruthie Dworin, Peyton Froula, Laura Garrett-Hovingh, Zoe Greenwald, Joseph Heberle, Connor Madison, Kellen Murphy, Aaron Roitman, Travis Ryan, and Catherine Young.
September 18-28, 2014
The Nancy Niles Sexton Theatre
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40204
[box_light]Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.[/box_light]