Home > Carol Davis, Theatre > ‘Harvey’ still a great American classic

‘Harvey’ still a great American classic

David Cochran as Elwood Doud (photo Daren Scott)

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

CORONADO, California–Lamb’s Players Theatre  is mounting a charming, sometimes zany but solid production of Mary Chase’s Harvey. You remember Harvey; he’s the invisible six foot three and a half inch tall white rabbit or pooka no on can see except the loveably eccentric Elwood P. Dowd (David Cochran Heath). Dowd’s sister Veta Louise Simmons (Kerry Meads) wants him committed because well…she thinks he a bit off center to put it mildly.

Now if Dowd is eccentric (his sister Veta thinks Elwood should be committed to the local sanitarium because of his habits, like talking to a rabbit, hanging out at the local bars, making friends with everyone he meets, giving them his phone number and inviting them to his house), one might want to compare his actions to those around him.

After sitting through the play, some might leave the theatre wondering whose in charge of the inmates since the rest of the good folks in Elwood’s world and those he encounters are as crazy as loons.

Harvey was mounted on Broadway in 1944. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year.  It ran for 1,775 performances. In 1950 the play was adapted to film starring James Stewart. Later, over the years it became one of Stewart’s best-loved and remembered films. The film version is so delightful one almost has to put that vision aside when watching the stage play with anyone else as Dowd. In the hearts and minds of most, Stewart is the quintessential Elwood P. Dowd.

David Cochran Heath fills the bill as the kind of Harvey we picture. He is gentle, soft-spoken, clueless and at peace with himself. He is open to all sorts of adventures and carries a perpetual smile on his face. He gives his personal cards out with abandon (”Here, let me give you one of my cards. Now if you should ever want to call me, call me at this number. Don’t call me at that one, that’s the old one”), and he doesn’t go anywhere without Harvey.

Cochran Heath has been with Lamb’s since 1981 performing in well over 100 roles and has a repertoire as diverse as Lincoln in The Rivalry (last seen) to G.S, Sullivan in Tarantara! Tarantana to Horace Vandergelder in Hello Dolly playing against Kerry Meads. Once again, he doesn’t disappoint.

At a first glance one might imagine Harvey et al. to be in a time warp. The setting is 1952. Jeanne Reith’s period costumes (remember the starchy white nurses uniforms?) are just right on target and fitting for each character. Mike Buckley’s clever three paneled revolving set looks like a stuffy sitting room with fussy details by Michael McKeon (properties) until it rotates into the office of the sanitarium which looks truly dated. Yet even set in this time period, the message is universal no matter the date on the calendar.

Simply put, “who is more dangerous to society: the easygoing dreamer with a vivid imagination or the people who want to conform him/her to the accepted form of reality”?   In the simplicity of its message a multitude of contradictions, complications and challenges rage on. That’s for another play, though. Director Robert Smith zeroes in on the comedy side of the story, leaving the audience to ponder the what if’s.

The most profound line in the play is uttered by Dowd, when the good doctor suggests that he (Dowd) might find it easier to conform …(“I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it”) Who’s to say what someone else’s reality is?

Speaking on behalf of someone else’s reality we daren’t ignore Veta. Veta is sure that if her brother is committed, her life and the life of her socially challenged daughter, Myrtle Mae will improve ten fold. She’s convinced that Myrtle Mae will meet just the right man after Elwood is out of the picture.

Unfortunately for Veta, she is so emotionally involved in trying to cover Elwood’s tracks that she gets sucked into what he’s doing and weaves a no exit trap for herself. By the time she goes to the sanitarium to plead her case against Elwood, she’s ends up being a perfect candidate for Dr. Chumley’s (John Rosen) rest sanitarium and a few Freudian like couches along the way.

Kerry Meads is a little too over the top as Veta especially in Act I. She’s funny but the awkward way she walks and tosses her hands around is distracting. Her misadventures along the way to finally accepting her brother are funny enough without over exaggerating every gesture. She fares better in Act II, settling down and is just plain fun to watch as she comes full circle in accepting her brother’s ways.

Fine support comes from Carly Nykanen’s oddball Myrtle Mae, Glynn Bedington’ s Mrs. Chauvenet, their high society family friend, Lance Arthur Smith and Kelli Kelley as Dr. Sanderson and nurse Kelly, Jim Chovick as Judge Omar Gaffney, long time personal friend to both Elwood and Veta and Cynthia Gerber as Dr. Chumley’s wife.

We don’t often get to see little treasures like Harvey. For San Diegans, this is worth a trip over the bridge to Coronado.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: June 4th –July 25th

Organization: Lamb’s Players Theatre

Phone: 619-437-6000

Production Type: Comedy

Where: 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado, California

Ticket Prices: $28.00-858.00

Web: lambsplayerstheatre.org

Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego

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