Friday, June 22, 2012

Theater Review: Harvey

The Humor Prompting Large Bursts of Laughter Seems as Invisible as the Rabbit
By Lauren Yarger
Picture this: You are introduced to a man who promptly introduces you to his best friend, Harvey. There isn't anyone there, but you seem to be the only one in the room who can't see the six-foot-tall white rabbit with whom he's conversing, so you don't say anything while trying to decide whether he's nuts or you are. Welcome to the world of Mary Chase's Pulitzer-Prize-winning play Harvey, getting a Broadway production by Roundabout Theatre Company. Welcome also to my world as I puzzled over why the audience was responding with riotous laughter to lines that inspired only an appreciative smile from me.

Don't get me wrong. The play is not bad. In fact, it has an old-fashioned, gentle humor (that Pulitzer came in 1945, one year after which the play is set with period costumes here by designer Jane Greenwood). This production boasts some big Q factor talent too: Jim Parsons of "Big Bang Theory" fame as the rabbit-seeing Elwood P. Dowd; Jessica Hecht (A View from the Bridge and numerous TV roles); Carol Kane ("The Princess Bride," TV's "Taxi"); Larry Bryggman ("As the World Turns"); Rich Sommer ("Mad Men"); and Charles Kimbrough ("Murphy Brown").

I honestly just couldn't figure out how simple lines like "Why he's as outdated as a cast-iron deer" or saying that a gift bouquet of flowers had just been picked outside had people rolling in the aisles. One man regularly slapped his knee and guffawed. Another laughed so hard he snorted. Not just once, but  often. I had maybe cracked a smile. I kept feeling like I had a sign on my back that said, "Laugh at her. We're playing a joke."

At any rate, the audience very much enjoyed this tale of kind, polite, trusting Elwood who is very lovable. He just has a small problem: an invisible rabbit friend, who supposedly isn't so small -- he's 6 feet three and a half inches tall, according to Elwood. Harvey accompanies Elwood everywhere. much to the embarrassment of his society-conscious sister, Veta Simmons (Hecht), her daughter, Myrtle Mae (Tracee Chimo) and society matron Ethel Chauvenet (Angela Payton). Veta decides it's time to commit Elwood and takes him to Chumley's Rest, a sanitarium run by William R. Chumley (Kimbrough) and his wife, Betty (Kane). David Rockwell's sets rotate to take us quickly from the beautifully panelled library at the Dowd mansion in Denver to the reception room at the sanitarium.

Because some of the message here is "who's really is crazy?" a misundserstanding convinces the doctor in charge, Lyman Sanderson (Morgan Spector), his nurse, Ruth Kelly (Hollyey Fain) and the orderly, Duane Wilson (Sommer) that Veta is the one who needs a room at the home. Omar Gaffney (Bryggman), the judge backing Elwood's commitment clears things up, but soon Elwood is spending time at his favorite bar tossing them back with new friend Chumley and suddenly Harvey might not be so invisible after all. A plot to inject Elwood with a drug that will "cure him" by letting him see the world and all its reality begs the question, "just what is normal?"

“In this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant," Elwood tells us. "Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”

Food for thought, but not necessarily the trigger for a sustained burst of laughter, you know what I mean?

Parsons does a nice job presenting the affable character (though it is hard not to think about Jimmy Stewart, for whom the cadence of Elwood's lines seems almost tailor-written, and who is most associated with the role). Director Scott Ellis fails to provide cohesion for all the performances, however, and the result is that everyone seems to be doing his or her own thing. While Sommer conveys his character's frustration, for example, it seems to be in a vacuum without any bounce off the other actors. Hecht shouts most of her lines in an indiscernible accent (which the characters brother and daughter oddly don't share) and Kane's role is regrettably too small to show off her comedic talent.

Check out Harvey and see whether you can see the rabbit -- or what's so funny -- at Studio 54 (254 West 54th St., NYC) through Aug. 5. Tickets: 212-719-1300; www.roundabouttheatre.org.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- It is mentioned that the rabbit might be a pooka, a goblin or spirit of Irish folklore that takes the form of a large animal.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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