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Review: Wayside's 'Harvey' is a must-see

Larry Dahlke, left, and David Maga perform in "Harvey," now playing at Wayside Theatre in Middletown. Courtesy photo (Buy photo)

By John Horan Jr. - jhoran@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- By all means, go to Wayside Theatre to see "Harvey." But don't expect to see Harvey.

For Harvey is a pooka, a 6-foot-tall rabbit seen only by Elwood P. Dowd, the comedy's amiable protagonist, as anyone familiar with the 1950 movie, a staple of late-night TV and now Turner Classic Movies, can attest.

Although Harvey is invisible, he is a powerful presence in Mary C. Chase's wistful play. He's the constant companion of Dowd, a lovable lush whose good manners demand that he introduce Harvey to everyone he meets, which drives his sister to have him committed.
The Wayside production, affectionately directed by Warner Crocker, emphasizes the play's charms. Yet it also has an undercurrent of manic intensity and, in some characters, flashes of the id, that randy tenet of Freudian psychology fashionable in 1944 when Chase's play debuted.

Larry Dahlke puts his own stamp on Elwood, a role James Stewart portrayed indelibly in the film. He's a callow eccentric, content in his illusory world and oblivious to the turmoil his imaginary friend generates. He exudes equanimity when others question his sanity and even when an orderly manhandles him.

"Harvey," which won the Pulitzer Prize and ran for seven years on Broadway, draws on Celtic mythology for the pooka, a mysterious, oversized creature invisible to ordinary mortals. But it also takes gentle pokes at psychiatry -- the doctors can't decide who's crazy, even the rational fall under Harvey's spell and you're left wondering of the value of being "normal."

More compact than the movie and somewhat creakier (characters sometimes disappear into nearby rooms seemingly unaware of the commotion on stage), the play gives a bigger share to the other actors, all of whom acquit themselves well in the production.

As Elwood's sister, Veta Louise, Thomasin Savaiano works herself into a lather over the disrepute he and Harvey bring the family, especially her goal of finding a proper husband for her daughter. Her ire, though, is leavened by flashes of tenderness and affection for her brother.

Molly Knudsen, a junior at Sherando High School, is charming as the daughter, Myrtle Mae. Her scenes with Eddie Staver III, the sanitarium orderly, betray a budding sexual attraction.

Similar chemistry is evident in the finely drawn characterizations of David Maga and Aviva Pressman as the young psychiatrist and nurse.

Cody Murphy is the apoplectic Dr. Chumley, who in a clever touch reclines on a couch and unburdens himself to Elwood.

James Laster is the family's trusty lawyer, Dacia Dick Chumley's long-suffering wife, Sarah Blackwell, a flashy society matron, and R. Jason Belew the down-to-earth cabbie.
The handsome, spacious set, by Til Turner, doubles as the family library and the sanitarium waiting room. Paul M. Callahan's imaginative lighting adds to the play's illusions. The stylish costumes are by Tamara M. Carruthers.

"Harvey" continues through April 24. The box office phone number is 869-1776.


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