Saturday, May 25, 2013

Harvey by Mary Chase, Zach Theatre, Topfer Theatre, May 15 - June 16, 2013

ALT review
Harvey Mary Chase Zach Theatre Austin TX
Martin Burke (image: Kirk R. Tuck)

by Christine Mendez

Harvey by Mary Chase at the Zach Theatre, directed by Dave Steakley, is a laughter-inducing good time. It centers around Elwood P. Dowd , a charming, generous and altogether very pleasant man who happens to have an invisible six-foot rabbit named Harvey as his best friend. 

 Martin Burke’s comic performance is flawless, once again. His subtle gestures and affably earnest conversations with Harvey have you almost seeing the giant white rabbit yourself! Burke portrays Elwood’s genuinely friendly without out a single false note.

Elwood’s sister (Lauren Lane) and her daughter Myrtle Mae (Erin Barlow) have spent years of hiding the invisible and unseemly Harvey from society, and they decide the time has come to commit Elwood to a sanitarium. A mix-up confines the wrong person, and a happily unaware Elwood continues on his pleasant way with a smile in place.

Harvey Mary Chase Lauren Lane Zach Theatre Austin TX
Lauren Lane (image: Kirk R. Tuck)
Lane and Barlow as mother and daughter duo have you feeling the shame and hilarity of the situation simultaneously. Lauren Lane’s predicaments had the audience laughing all evening long – so much so that at times one had to strain to hear the dialogue. A week of preview performances should have been sufficient to adjust the timing – but perhaps the audience for the official opening night was particularly exuberant. I wished the ladies would have another beat before delivering their lines, but they definitely succeeded in keeping us amused.

Harvey Mary Chase Zach Theatre Austin TX
Liz Beckham, Martin Burke, Jacob Trussell (image: Kirk R.Tuck)

Elwood’s gentle courtesy makes Nurse Kelly (Liz Beckham) feel appreciated and cherished even when the man she has her eyes set on, Dr. Sanderson (Jacob Trussell), treats her poorly. Elwood’s unwavering chivalry is refreshing, disarming and disconcerting to the other characters.

The Pulitzer-Prize-winning play from 1945, familiar to many from the Jimmy Stewart movie, poses a still relevant question about delusions, social propriety and responsibility. Is it right to lock up a friendly, generous and good-natured man who is harmlessly out of contact with reality as we conceive it? What’s the danger to us if he imagines he has a giant invisible rabbit as companion and best friend? People reject behavior they do not understand, so they instinctively move to counter it and exclude Elwood, even though he’s charismatic and kind.

Harvey the rabbit remains invisible, but his presence is palpable and apparent in the set design by Michelle Ney. Rabbit figures are to be found littered throughout the set. I was pleasantly surprised to detect a few rabbits in portraits on the walls of the sets, and I spent much of the intermission trying to find them all. The revolving stage was a quick and fun way to change between the two sets. The contrast between the warm library and the cold, almost empty environment of the sanitarium was stark – but it had no effect on the effervescent Elwood.

I recommend that you hop over to Zach Theatre to catch this performance of Harvey before he disappears!

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