Things are getting a little wacky with the McLean Community Players these days, and this time it’s in the form of Harvey by Mary Chase. This challenging and earnest production—directed by Eleanore Tapscott and produced by Jennifer Levy and Mike Scott—gave the players quite a lot to dive in to, and they certainly gave it their all in an admirable fashion.
Leading the charge of zaniness and impeccable but odd manners was Kevin Dykstra as Elwood P. Dowd. A man of leisure, Dowd spends his days calling on and making new friends in the company of Harvey. Who is Harvey, you ask? Why, a six-foot-tall white rabbit that no one else can see. Causing his family a great deal of stress and embarrassment, Dowd happily drifts through the play oblivious, but as polite as can be. Dykstra’s take on this fascinating and kindly character was wonderful. His pleasant and slightly doe-eyed demeanor played perfectly into the happy-go-lucky gentleman. Whether Dowd intended to or not, his going about life happily and pleasantly made his community a better place.
His sister, Veta Louise Simmons (played by Anne Hilleary), and niece, Myrtle Mae Simmons (played by Caroline Peterson), however, were not as convinced that pleasant manners could excuse introducing everyone to an invisible rabbit. Peterson’s Myrtle Mae was visibly exasperated from start to finish. Her uncle was ruining her prospects and that’s all there was to it. Hilleary’s Veta had a much harder time deciding what to do with her odd brother. Filling the stage with wildly flustered expressions and gasps of panic, Hilleary had some of the largest moments, which, unfortunately for her, brought about a turn of events at the sanitarium when she went to commit her brother.
Another pairing that brought drama to the production was Amanda Spellman as Nurse Ruth Kelly and Michael Himes as Dr. Lyman Sanderson. Their love-hate relationship permeated even the smallest of “professional” interactions and I dare say distracted them from making the right diagnosis on multiple occasions. As sassy as her character, Spellman’s pithy one-liners were delightful jolts of energy. The charming and decreasingly confident Dr. Sanderson also worked well with Himes’s poised presence on the stage, even as we were privy to his internal panic. It was a balance Himes worked with well.
The professional face-off between the renowned Dr. William Chumley (played by Bob Thompson) and Judge Omar Gaffney (played by David Adler) also showed off the age-old battle between the ego of lawyers and doctors. Both might have been in the wrong on more than a few occasions but neither was about to admit it nor would they let an opportunity for one-upmanship go by. Whether it was during a mad hunt for the escaped patient or the bringing of a legal suit, both Thompson and Adler tapped into the bluster of their characters.
The supporting cast was filled with foils. Sweet Caroline Weis as Miss Johnson bookended the production with the gruff cabbie, E.J. Lofgren, played by Lou Lehrman. Justin Trent as the rough Duane Wilson also brought quite a bit of rowdy drama to the production. The opposites additionally popped up in the wildly different reactions to Harvey, first with the dumbfounded panic of Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet (played by Kathleen Donovan), then followed by the naïve acceptance of Mrs. Betty Chumley (played by Shayne Gardner) as she helped Mr. Dowd find his “lost friend.” Both highlighted the range of human interpretation to bizarre situations.
There was a lot to unpack for Director Eleanore Tapscott and Assistant Director Matthew Munroe in Harvey. Being almost 75 years old, not everything in the script has aged the same way or as well as others, but Tapscott did not shy away from the task. She guided the actors through a few of the fast-paced, chaotic scenes, and while there were some questions open to the audience’s interpretation at the end, the overarching theme of kindness and community empathy was well rooted. Costumes by Farrell Hartigan and props and set dressing by Claire Tse gave the production a good backdrop against which to lay the scenes.
The venue itself was also charming and the perfect setting for a play that has seen so many decades. Built in 1929, the Great Falls Grange Hall was built as a public assembly hall and it bolstered the old-timey feel of the production. The small cozy space did, however, present a bit of a challenge for Set Designer Bill Glikbarg and Lighting Designer Lynne Glikbarg. With so many people and so little room, the creativity of quite literally flipping the set from house to sanitarium and back again was an intriguing idea, but ultimately should have been saved for a larger space. I also did admire Choreographer Victoria Bloom’s idea of using a socialite dance party to mask the movement of a set change, but the stage itself was a bit too small to bring the idea to fruition.
At a turbulent time in our history, to have a community theater put on a play that reminds us of the empathetic power in each of our choices was lovely. Reading the cast’s biographies, it was nice to see such a range of ages and experience in its ranks, as one of the best parts of community theater is quite literally watching the old and new guards learn from each other. In the case of Harvey, it highlights the warming joy that can come from making everyone’s day a bit more pleasant, and maybe, sometimes, those actions come in the form of a large, white rabbit.
On a personal note, the playbill featured a tribute to the late founder and editor in chief of DCMTA, Joel Markowitz. It was a truly lovely memorial to such a wonderful man. Thank you.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Harvey by the McLean Community Players is playing through March 24, 2018, at the Great Falls Grange – 9818 Georgetown Pike, Great Falls, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (800) 838-3006, or purchase them online.