Chicago Theatre Review
Court’s ‘Harvey’ a breezy, carefree production
Harvey – Court Theatre
“Harvey,” the whimsical tale of Elwood P. Dowd and his best friend Harvey – a six-foot, three-inch tall rabbit that nobody but Dowd can see – is part of the American narrative lexicon, thanks to the popular 1950 film starring James Stewart. The film, though, was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase, and under the direction of Devon De Mayo, Court Theatre has created a most delightful production of the play.
The plot of “Harvey” is pure 1940s screwball. Elwood (a perfect Timothy Edward Kane), who controls the Dowd family’s considerable estate, is a source of never-ending embarrassment for his sister Veta (Karen Janes Woditsch) and her daughter Myrtle (Sarah Price), social climbers who strive to enter the upper echelons of New York society.
Although ceaselessly kind and generous, Elwood insists on introducing his imaginary friend to everyone he meets, something that endears him in the bars and dives he patrons but humiliates Veta and her high-society snobs. In desperation, Veta decides to commit Harvey to a sanitarium, only for the psychiatrist overseeing the facility (a funny Erik Hellman) to mistake her for the mentally ill member of the family. Before long, the owner of the sanitarium (the charismatic A.C. Smith) and the family’s attorney (the wonderful Jacqueline Williams) are also thrust into the fray, and you have a tale rife with misunderstanding, hysterics, and witty repartee.
It surprises no one when I say that “Harvey” continues Court’s longstanding tradition of production excellence. Courtney O’Neill’s scenic design, Izumi Inaba’s costume design, and Lee Keenan’s lighting design all sparkle with authenticity, and it is a delight watching Court’s talented cast dig in to Chase’s sweet-if-lampooning characters. For instance, as Elwood, Kane is charming and effortless, floating through his scenes with natural grace. And in their respective roles, Smith and Williams – Court regulars long praised for their dramatic efforts – show impeccable comedic timing in their parts.
All the elements are there, but admittedly, “Harvey” did not quite soar for me, and that is likely due more to Chase’s original material that the efforts of De Mayo and her cast/crew. I do not say this to suggest that all stories need to be severe and depressing – as Jack Lemmon and other actors have insisted, dying is easy, comedy is hard – and indeed, the moral of “Harvey,” that we should accept one’s eccentricities and resist packing everyone into tight, comforting, boring archetypes, is one everyone should consider. But at the end of the evening, “Harvey” ends up feeling slight, minor, a perfectly enjoyable show that was adapted into a superior film. But given the caliber of Court’s cast and its considerable production chops, “Harvey” is still recommended.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through June 11 by Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL 60637
Tickets are available by calling 773-753-4472 or by visiting http://www.courttheatre.org/.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.