by Louise, Community Manager
We all have a person in our lives who drives us crazy for one reason or another – they have some annoying habit that makes us wish we could disappear when they bring it out in public. That familiar situation is the basis for the story of Harvey, except the “annoying habit” protagonist Elwood P. Dowd has is a 6’2” tall white rabbit (or “pooka”) that only he can see, who is his best friend and accompanies him everywhere.
Needless to say, Elwood’s habit causes his sister and niece, who came to live with him after his mother’s death, a great deal of distress. His niece Myrtle May is dying to have an active social life, but terrified to bring anyone over to their home for fear of her uncle introducing them to his invisible leporine companion. The problem is compounded by the fact that Harvey is not merely Elwood’s friend, he also has a tendency to be able to predict the future, and Elwood is not shy about sharing his predictions with anyone and everyone. As you can imagine, all this is absolutely mortifying to Myrtle May and her mother Veta, who decide to take drastic measures and have Elwood committed to a local sanitarium. A comedy of errors ensues until nobody really knows who, if anyone, is actually sane (except for Elwood, who seems to never be concerned for a moment about his own mental health or anyone else’s).
While old fashioned (it was written in 1944), Harvey is one of those works that is timeless. There is no need for injections of pop culture humor to help make it funny for a modern audience – it just IS funny.
Of course, being a person who loves TV almost as much as I love theater, I was incredibly excited to see Jim Parsons, most famous for playing the socially inept Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, take on a leading role on Broadway. Elwood P. Dowd is a perfect role for Parsons, who in my opinion just seems like the nicest person in the world in spite of how much of a jerk his character is on Big Bang. Elwood is also socially awkward, but in a very different way from Sheldon: Elwood is kind and friendly to a fault, prone to overwhelming flattery, likely to try to make a social engagement with you within about 30 seconds of introducing himself, and not likely to take no for an answer. Parsons takes on this role flawlessly and makes it his own, despite the fact that it was the great James Stewart who made it famous. I don’t know about the rest of the audience, but I was struggling with the impulse to go on stage on give him a big hug (no, not really – please don’t file a restraining order, Mr. Parsons!).
The rest of the cast is also fantastic, and even if you’re not a frequent Broadway attendee, if you’re a TV lover like I am you’ll see a lot of familiar faces: Jessica Hecht (who played Susan on Friends), Charles Kimbrough (Jim Dial on Murphy Brown), Carol Kane (who is of course ubiquitous but I always remember her best as Simka on Taxi), Larry Bryggman (best known as Dr. John Dixon on As the World Turns) and Rich Sommer (Harry Crane on Mad Men). Every one of these actors does an excellent job, and together they are a force to be reckoned with. I also must mention Tracee Chimo, who was new to me but is a phenomenal Myrtle May. She embodied her character fully, with perfect facial expressions and wonderful little touches (like constantly adjusting her belt or fiddling with the buckle of her shoe) that really brought her to life. I’ll be keeping an eye on her in the future!
There is only a brief opportunity to see Harvey – it is playing through August 4th at Studio 54, with no chance of extension since Jim Parsons will need to return to California at the end of the summer. So don’t delay – e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to plan your trip and snatch up some tickets before the opportunity passes you by!