The Purple Rose Theatre’s summer offering, the American classic, “Harvey”

. July 5, 2017.
(L-R) David Bendena, Caitlin Cavannaugh, Rusty Mewha and Lauren Knox bring an imaginative story to the stage. Photo: Mary Chase
(L-R) David Bendena, Caitlin Cavannaugh, Rusty Mewha and Lauren Knox bring an imaginative story to the stage. Photo: Mary Chase

The Purple Rose Theatre’s summer offering is the American classic, “Harvey.” Mary Chase’s play opened on Broadway in 1944 and ran four-and-a-half years. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a 1950 movie starring Jimmy Stewart. When the play was revived on Broadway in 1970, Stewart reprised his film role opposite Helen Hayes.

“Harvey’s” hero is Elwood P. Dowd, a middle-aged man sharing, with his sister and her daughter, the family home he inherited from his mother. Oh, and also with Harvey. The problem is that Harvey is a six-and-a-half-foot-tall rabbit. To make matters worse, he’s invisible to everyone except Elwood. Harvey is very troubling to Elwood’s sister Veta but he is particularly vexing to her daughter Myrtle, who is in the champion eye-rolling phase of teenage-hood, that time of life when everything one’s relatives do is terminally embarrassing anyway. “But Mother, why can’t we live like other people?”

Come on, brother

At the start of the play things have deteriorated to the point that Veta feels she must commit Elwood to a sanitarium. When they arrive there, a comedy of errors erupts. Chase expertly deploys the stock-in-trade tricks of all comedies of errors, the opening and slamming of several doors, and the intricate split-second timing of her characters’ comings and goings in and out those doors. There are familiar, stereotypical characters. The psychiatrist who is more deluded than his patients, the blonde bombshell who is much brighter and more perceptive than people think, and the cabbie who has seen it all. But Elwood’s character is unique and memorable.

Although he says, “Doctor, I wrestled with reality for forty years, and I am happy to report that I finally won out over it,” it’s perhaps he who is the only one who sees people most truly. When he says, “Some people are blind. That is often brought to my attention,” he’s not only talking about people being unable to see Harvey.

Poignant and, ultimately uplifting

The play is by turns uproariously funny, poignant, and ultimately uplifting. Although Elwood is the only one who ever sees Harvey, everyone in the play – and in the audience – is profoundly affected and transformed by the two of them.

“‘Harvey’ is my favorite American classic play,” says Guy Sanville, the Purple Rose’s Artistic Director. “For over seventy years, this magical, hilarious, heartfelt and thought-provoking comedy has moved, delighted and inspired millions of people to rediscover the kindness inherent in all human beings.”

Mary Chase wrote Harvey during WWII, while any and every innocent fantasy was preferable to the ongoing brutal reality. Today, when reality sometimes seems even more grim than when Harvey was written, the play’s message of tolerance, understanding, and compassion seems just as necessary as when it first ran.

 

Thursday, June 15 – Saturday, August 26
The Purple Rose Theatre Company
137 Park Street, Chelsea | 48160
Previews, with reduced-price tickets available
through Thursday, June 22
Ticket prices range from $20.50 to $46 with special
discounts for students, seniors, teachers, members of
the military, and groups
For more information call (734) 433-7673 or
visit www.purplerosetheatre.org

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