My favourite moment in Mary Chase’s Harvey, both the movie version and the current Mira Players production of her play, happens late in the play when Elwood P. Dowd explains his friendship with the giant invisible rabbit of the title. It’s worth quoting at length:
“Harvey and I sit in the bars… have a drink or two… play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they’re saying, “We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fella.” Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We’ve entered as strangers – soon we have friends. And they come over… and they sit with us… and they drink with us… and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they’ve done and the big wonderful things they’ll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey… and he’s bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed.”
By this time in the play, Elwood (and Harvey) have wreaked social havoc on the lives of his sister, Veta, and her bratty grown up daughter, Myrtle May. Veta has tried to have Elwood committed to Dr. Chumley’s “rest home” only to accidentally convince the somewhat smug Dr. Sanderson that she is the person needing treatment. Elwood, the good doctor believes, is perfectly sane. Realizing his mistake, he, Dr. Chumley, and Duane (their thuggish orderly, who has designs on Myrtle May) scour the city’s bars, dives, fire halls, and social clubs looking for Elwood who they now believe is a dangerous psychopath.
In the middle of the rising mayhem, Elwood brings a moment of quiet grace to the action and the whimsy of the play gains some substance.
Harvey Pyke, who plays Elwood in the Players production, does a wonderful performance of this easy to mess up speech. In fact, Pyke was pitch perfect with his entire performance. As a stage character, Elwood has a deceptively small range: no matter what chaos swirls around him, he is always sincerely pleasant. Pyke took on that challenge and aced it; his performance was always funny, engaging, believable, and surprising.
As quiet as Elwood has to be, Diana MacKinnon-Furlong was a one woman cyclone of hysteria and anxiety. Her oversized performance perfectly suited her character and her reactions to each fresh “outrage” from Harvey earned big audience laughs. Matching her was Jule Ann Hardy as Myrtle Mae: Hardy brought a snarky entitlement to her character that almost brought applause from the audience when her mother finally put her in her place.
Doug Wrathall, as Dr. Sanderson, brought the arrogance (and the hair) of a ‘70s TV doctor to his part. Wrathall captured his character’s confidence in his own psychobabble insights that grew funnier as the situations grew more absurd. Cathy MacDougall, as Nurse Kelly, as the love-smitten Nurse Kelly, provided a reassuring sense of decency to her character.
Robert Lewandowski, as the officious Dr. Chumley, was an audience favourite and enjoyed a wonderful scene with Pyke confessing his idea of heaven: it involves cold beer, some inappropriate head patting, and Akron, Ohio. Jackie Kehoe, as the gruff Judge Uma Gaffney, expertly kept the play grounded in a kind of reality.
The remainder of the cast all shone as well: Peggy Jenkins as Elwood’s doting aunt, Mrs. Chauvenet, Beth Matheson as Veta’s maid, Joan Wison as the kindly Mrs. Chumley, and Kyle Doncaster was particularly effective as the menacing Duane the Orderly.
Director Kelly Lynn Kirk elicited confident and sterling performances from her cast and cleverly used the compact stage of The Christian Education Centre in Marion Bridge. The pre-set music cued the audience that the play had been updated to the 1970’s (and surprisingly all of the psychiatric dialogue did not seem out of date). She also chose a somewhat controversial way of presenting Harvey which might upset the Harvey traditionalists but which I think she made work (with the help of Roland Doncaster). In interviews, Kirk cited the Harry Potter books for her interpretation and I think that points up the generational difference in attitudes towards the mythical and the mystical between the play’s original audience and today’s audiences.
“Harvey” is being presented with a delicious chicken dinner on Friday, May 1, and Saturday, May 2. Call Helen at 902 562 2980 to reserve tickets (do it now, they tend to sell out). The Mira Players have also scheduled a public dress rehearsal performance on Thursday, April 30, at 7 pm with pay what you can admission.