Written by Mary Chase
Directed by David McConaughy
At Eliot House this weekend
WHAT CAN one really say about Harvey, that good old adorable 1940s comedy about a rich, eccentric family whose bachelor uncle thinks he sees a giant rabbit? This play is it--the absolute warhorse of warhorses, a cuddly, cute and utterly innocuous script which hit its peak 30 years ago with a Jimmy Stewart movie and has since been relegated to the position of favored stand-by for a hundred thousand suburban high schools.
Reviewing Harvey is like reviewing Oklahoma starring your sister's tenth grade class, especially since the working philosophy of this Eliot House production, directed by David McConaughy and mounted in the house library, could be summed up as "let's not mess with an American classic"--and they haven't.
If you close your eyes some-where in the middle of this show, and then open them again real slowly, you can actually pretend you're back in high school. Same old plywood flats with doors that don't quite close, same old exuberant, slightly wooden acting, same old big audience of proud parents and friends...same old Harvey.
If you haven't already seen Harvey, here's the scoop: Elwood, who lives with his goofy socialite sister, Veta Louise, and sourfaced niece, Myrtle Mae, is convinced that his best friend is a 6-foot-tall white rabbit named Harvey. Well, gee, folks, the only problem is that no one else can see Harvey, and Veta and Myrtle think poor Elwood's gone a little soft upstairs, so they take him to see a couple of wacky psychiatrists, Drs. Sanderson and Chumley, and that's when the hysterical antics begin.
The members of the cast are obviously enjoying themselves, and having a good time, and the whole library kinda `glows' with good intentions. The acting has its ups and downs. Lee Thomsen plays the lead role of Elwood with a warm, welcoming smile frozen on his face from beginning to end, and while the smile effectively establishes beyond a doubt that Elwood is sweet and mild-mannered, his character lacks depth and soon grows cartoonish. If Elwood is to hold our attention, he also needs charisma.
The liveliest actor on stage is Martha Moore, who brings an appropriately strung-out wiltedness to the role of Veta Louise. Jason Tomarken also deserves mention for an uneven but amusingly arrogant performance as Dr. Sanderson. Tomarken is tall and skinny and uses his body very well on stage to achieve comic effects, especially when he leans over to peer over the over the top of his glasses. Donal Logue hammed up his role as a muscular hospital attendant and also raised some welcome chuckles. Frankly the characters in this play are so goofy already that the funniest performances result from hamming up the parts until they seem even goofier, which most of the cast succeeds in doing.
Go ahead, bring your grandmother and the family dog--nothing wrong with good clean fun.