Elwood P. Dowd is a heck of a guy. His manners are impeccable. He always has a smile and a kind word for you. He’ll meet you as a stranger and leave you as a friend. Speaking of friends, his best friend is an invisible six-foot, one and a half inch tall white rabbit which deals fits to his family. Find out why in Harvey which is currently playing at the Lofte Community Theatre.
In Dowd, Mary Chase has created a true disciple to Cervantes’ beloved madman, Don Quixote de La Mancha. Not only does Dowd see life as it should be instead of as it is, but he takes it one step further by making life as it should be the reality of his little corner of the world. It’s quite a powerful theme and it’s truly a joy to watch the magical effect that Dowd’s philosophy of just “being pleasant” has on the world. Had Chase focused solely on the idea of Dowd’s philosophy and madness, she’d have had a nearly perfect story. But her use of several subplots that never really get fully developed or settled waters her work down a bit and turns a nearly perfect story into a pretty good story.
Kevin Colbert’s direction is fairly effective. I loved his staging and use of space in the mammoth set. His actors are precisely placed so you not only always see their faces, but it makes the cavernous library and sanitarium feel full. Colbert also has a firm grip on the show’s primary theme and gives it the proper focus throughout the production. He’s also guided his actors to some sweet and charming performances. As the show does have elements of a farce, I thought the pacing could have been picked up at points and the cue pickups needed to be tighter, but I’ll qualify that by saying I did catch this show on its penultimate night and I may have just been seeing the performance fatigue that sometimes hits at the end of a run.
In this solid ensemble, you’ll see some entertaining performances from Matt Jarvis and Natalie Christina McGovern. Jarvis makes the most of his brief time on stage by being the physical embodiment of Dowd’s philosophy. He’s very irritable when he enters, but is transformed into a friendly, garrulous man after meeting Dowd. Jarvis also gets one of the night’s best monologues as he tells the story of taking patients to and from the sanitarium which paints the difference between happiness and reality. McGovern provides some laughs as a slightly snobby and man hungry high society elitist.
Neal Herring was sublime as Elwood P. Dowd. When he first entered, I was struck by his physical similarity to Dan Duryea and his Dowd has a personality to match (Duryea was known as the nicest guy in Hollywood in massive contrast to the vicious villains he brought to life on screen). Herring underplays the role beautifully. He is just charming and likable and one cannot help, but be a better person just by being in his presence. This guy isn’t crazy, he’s simply “conquered reality” which makes him saner than most.
Scott Clark is very clinical as sanitarium head, William Chumley. This man is practically a robot, staying in his office and never interacting with patients which explains how he’s lost touch with his humanity. Clark is truly amusing as he starts to disintegrate when dealing with the curious case of Dowd and Harvey and has a truly shining moment when he throws off his shell and you realize Chumley is a man who has merely forgotten the simple pleasures of life.
Rosalie Duffy has all the right elements in place as Dowd’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons. Duffy’s Veta has got a good heart, but also is a little more concerned with her ranking in high society and how she’s perceived by others instead of just being happy. Duffy also does a fine job of slowly peeling the onion of her relationship with Harvey and you learn there may be more than madness at play. This is a truly fun role and I think Duffy has the space to go a bit bigger with some of her interpretations and reactions with some of the show’s more farcical moments.
Colbert has designed the best set I’ve seen this season. It breaks apart and rotates like a jigsaw puzzle with one side being the library in the Dowd home with its fine stained wood, gorgeous window, bookshelves, and looming fireplace and the other being the front office of the sanitarium with powder blue walls, office doors, phones, and desk. The sanitarium actually has a homey feeling which would put patients at ease. Janet Sorensen’s costumes are on the mark with elegant suits for the men, splendid dresses for the wealthy women, the sterile uniform of the sanitarium orderly, and the practical nurse uniform of Ruth Kelly. I also want to take a moment to praise the wonderful portraits Cindy Mumford has painted of Marcella Dowd plus the one of Elwood and Harvey.
And what of Harvey? Is he delusion? Reality? Or that little spark of happiness that many of us tend to lose? I have my thoughts, but I’d rather you watch it and come up with your own theories.
Harvey has one final performance at Lofte Community Theatre on April 10 at 2pm. Tickets cost $24 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 402-234-2553, or visiting www.lofte.org. Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road in Manley, NE.