Craig Nolan Highley in Harvey. Photo: Jennifer Starr
By Mary Chase
Directed by Emily Grimany
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Middle-aged middle-American Elwood P. Dowd’s best friend is a 6-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey that no one else can see. Is Harvey an imaginary creature? To Elwood, he is altogether as real as any other character in Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
Why keep revisiting old chestnuts such as Harvey? What does a 78-year-old play set in small town America have to say to audiences in 2022? The quaint ease with which Elwood’s sister, Veta (Kristy Calman) and niece Myrtle Mae (Magdalen Hartmen) can get Elwood committed dates the play by placing it in a simpler time, and that Elwood finds gentle sanctuary from reality in the harmless delusion of a pooka, seems less a sign of mental illness and more a deliberate, sober choice.
Director Emily Grimany gives the lean and sturdy farce a good workout, building a steady comic pace that still allows notes of humanity, community, and the sense of decency by which we tend to define post World War II America. Maintaining the period is crucial, because it emphasizes the nostalgic appeal of a world in which Elwood can not only exist but flourish. Honestly, is there a place for this guy in the hate-filled, politically and socially devisive United States of 2022?
Craig Nolan Highley’s affection for Harvey as both a director and actor is well known, so it is no surprise how easily he is able to show how effectively the delusion works for Elwood. Blithe and unconcerned about almost everything except making friends, Highley also never plays the drunkenness, even though the character appears to spend a good deal of time drinking and has a comprehensive knowledge of all of the bars in town and the name of every bartender. The choice made me question that device, not through the lens of contemporary PC judgement, but in how easily alcohol obsures the understanding of Elwood’s choice. It is disappointing to imagine that Harvey is merely the product of the DTs.
Kristy Calman makes for an uptight but still loving Veta, a colorful and impactful comic performance, and there is an interesting casting against type in having Magdalen Hartman play Myrtle Mae and Magnolia Hensley play Nurse Kelly. Hensley’s gift for playing offbeat, often outsize comic characters would seem to position her as Myrtle May, and Hartman has the appearance and bearing of a romantic lead. The result is surprising and engaging work from both.
John Trueblood is an eccentric delight as Dr. Chumley, the head of the mental clinic, and Richie Goff perfectly channels the glib leading man of a thousand 1940s movies as Dr. Sanderson, who works for Chumley and haltingly ibecomes a romantic foil for Nurse Kelly. The rest of the ensemble ably fills out the action and the farce while Highley occpuies the calm and contented center as Elwood.
Leading in and out of the two acts was a lively mix of period tunes and Post Modern Jukebox curated by Daniel Riddlesmith.
At one point Elwood declares, “I have wrestled with reality forever, and I am happy to say that I won!”, and it is exactly that allure of illusion versus reality that lies at the heart of Harvey‘s appeal. Freed of a respectable life full of responsibility, Elwood receives the world as only a place of kindness and compassion, a series of opportunities for conviviality and companionship and another round of drinks.
Featuring Kristy Calman, Ron Dawson, Richie Goff, Magdalen Hartman, Magnolia Hensley, Craig Nolan Highley, Tiffany Kovats Hill, Joe R. Monroe, Kenn Parks, Jennifer Starr, John Trueblood, & Janice Walter
June 30 – July 10 @ 7:30 pm
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.