Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JUNE 18, 2010
So what would you do if your brother started saying his best buddy was a 6-foot tall rabbit? Would you humor him, or have him locked up?
This isn’t a four year- old’s imaginary friend, mind you. Elwood P. Dowd is 49 —and he thinks that, in this world, you can be either “oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” And he already tried smart. So now, with Harvey at his side, he’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. In fact, if you did meet him, he’d probably invite you out for a drink. That’s what he does with the bumbling psychiatrists at the sanitarium where his distraught and desperate sister finally decides to deposit him.
The ultimate questions in Margaret Chase’s 1944 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic are: What’s sane? What’s crazy? What’s normal? — And who gets to decide? And what happens when you open yourself up to the magic and imagination of life? Harvey is a pooka , we’re told, a shapeshifting , Celtic fairy spirit especially fond of “crackpots and dreamers.”
Through most of the play, the audience isn’t sure what to think – about Elwood or Harvey. Keeping us off balance just adds to the fun. The comedy, which devolves into farce in the second act, can be highly amusing, and Lamb’s Players Theatre is milking the humor for all it’s worth – and then some, judging from the campy opening night performances. The situation is comical and harebrained enough; if the cast dialed it down a couple of notches, the humor would hit even harder.
At the center of all the hysteria and histrionics is calmly affable David Cochran Heath as Elwood — a guy you actually would cheerfully take up on his drinks or dinner offer. He’s not played as the happy, harmless town drunk here, just a friendly, smiley, possibly delusional trust-fund baby, overgrown. Careening around him is a talented ensemble, who’d be even better if they portrayed characters rather than caricatures. The text satirizes these types enough; they don’t have to be acted in italics and exclamation points.
With whimsically choreographed moves, the set transforms from stately mansion to crazy-clinic and back again. The costumes are gorgeous. And while the play can be viewed as sheer, unadulterated entertainment, it also confronts issues of acceptance, eccentricity and trying to fit every peg into the same-sized hole, especially one that’s attempting, in rather creative ways, to avoid the stultifying social-climbing routines of the rich. There are more than a few jabs at the upper crust and the psychiatric establishment as well.
But if you don’t feel like going deep, you can just embrace “ Harvey ” as the big, cuddly overstuffed playpal he – I mean, the play – really is.
“ Harvey ” runs through July 18, at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado .
©2010 PAT LAUNER