Tuesday, March 5, 2019
For its winter production, the SBCC theater department is staging the beloved, time-honored play Harvey. Written by Mary Chase, the lively comedy premiered on Broadway in 1944 and garnered Chase the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945. These days, the story is most likely best known thanks to the 1950 film starring Jimmy Stewart.
The plot centers on Elwood P. Dowd, a mild sot who believes his best friend is a six-foot-plus rabbit named Harvey. He spends his time playing cards and drinking in the local bars, always with his best friend Harvey, who Elwood insists on introducing to everyone he meets. Though affable, Elwood’s behavior causes his social-climbing sister Veta much consternation, as she worries that his peculiar behavior will hinder her upwardly mobile aspirations. When Elwood (along with Harvey) shows up during a party Veta has thrown for the town’s society ladies, it’s the last straw — she decides to commit Elwood to a sanitarium. A comedy of errors ensues as taboo topics such as mental health and alcohol abuse are explored in a buoyant fashion.
R. Michael Gross directs SBCC’s offering, which stars Raymond Wallenthin as Elwood and Nita June Davanzo as Veta. The cast also includes Matt Smith (Dr. Lyman Sanderson), Sean Jackson (Dr. William Chumley), Don Margolin (Judge Omar Gaffney), George Coe (Duane Wilson), and Madison Widener (Nurse Ruth Kelly). Coe gives a strong performance as the no-nonsense sanitarium orderly, while Wallenthin does a fine job as the unperturbed, good-natured Elwood. Jackson brings smile-inducing folly to his role, while Smith is convincing as the arrogant Sanderson.
SBCC has outdone itself with spectacular sets and costumes. The book-lined library of the Dowd home is the essence of a cozy manor room, while the sanitarium transports the audience to the late 1940s, with its crisp white walls, glass bricks, and white metal furniture. Resident costume designer Pamela Shaw’s choice of era-appropriate outfits adds to the post-WWII feel.
Chase’s play is rife with quick-witted dialogue that takes nuanced comedic timing. I saw the SBCC production during previews, and the cast was still in the process of smoothing out the give-and-take between characters. As a result, some of the humorous lines fell flat. Even so, the production garnered many laughs from the attentive audience who clearly enjoyed an entertaining evening of theater.