Before Harvey was turned into a film starring Jimmy Stewart, it was a 1944 play by Mary Chase. The play, a light-hearted screwball classic, is the perfect vehicle for Zach Scott’s Martin Burke as Elwood P. Dowd, although Lauren Lane steals the show as Dowd’s sister Veta.
The play opens in the library of an elegant house, as Veta and her daughter Myrtle entertain high society guests in the other room. Veta and Myrtle desire nothing more than to rise in society, so that Myrtle can find herself a good husband and they can live in the luxury they feel they deserve.
The only problem is Veta’s brother Elwood, who drinks too much and carries on conversations with an invisible six-foot rabbit named Harvey. Elwood is the sweetest, kindest man in the world, but Veta and Myrtle can’t help being embarrassed when he walks into every room and introduces strangers to the unseen Harvey. After Elwood interrupts their party, Veta decides that committing him to a sanitarium is the only solution.
However, when Veta takes Elwood to Chumley’s Rest and tries to get him committed, the doctor, Sanderson, decides that Veta is actually the one who should be committed. After all, she’s clearly upset and keeps raving about a six-foot tall rabbit named Harvey. Sanderson lets Elwood go, apologizing for the mistake, but Elwood doesn’t mind. Nothing seems to ruffle the charming Mr. Dowd, and it isn’t long before he’s invited Sanderson and his nurse, Miss Kelly, out for drinks later in the evening.
The play kicks into high gear in the second act, when Veta is sprung from the sanitarium after the doctors realize they’ve made a terrible mistake. Lane plays the traumatized Veta to the hilt – woozy, drugged, hysterical and absolutely hilarious. Lane’s performance is laugh-out-loud funny, and more than worth the price of the ticket.
Burke is pitch-perfect as the charming, kind-hearted Dowd, but the play is ultimately more about how the other characters are changed by Dowd’s influence. Veta and Chumley are both humanized and brought down to earth by Dowd and his friend Harvey.
Also notable is the play’s set design, which places the two settings – the library and Chumley’s Rest – on a huge rotating platform. My one criticism of the Topfer stage is that it oftentimes seems to dwarf material that might be served better by a smaller stage, but here the design helps overcome that tendency.
Zach Scott’s production of Harvey is definitely worth checking out if you’re in the mood for a good laugh. Highly recommended.
Originally published at Austin.com (Link unavailable)