The imaginary friend is a staple of childhood play. In Harvey, currently playing at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, the adult version of the childhood friend emerges when the “oh so pleasant” Elwood P. Dowd introduces his friend Harvey, an imaginary six-foot-tall rabbit. If you are not sold at once, you soon will be caught up in the thought and presence of Harvey’s being. You will come to like what you can’t see and root for Harvey and his friend Elwood in this fine production of Harvey.
Written by Mary Chase in 1944, the original Broadway production played for four years followed by a film made famous by James Stewart, and television productions. It is a well-known story to many theatergoers, and though it may show its age with edges of intolerance, misunderstandings of mental illness and nary a hint of #MeToo, audiences will ride the comedy of errors as the story develops.
Director Frank Pasqualino does a fine job of bringing the characters to life with the affable man, Elwood P. Dowd, played by the facile Andy Izquierdo. Izquierdo’s body language, timing, and rubbery delightful grin easily win over the audience, making very believable his claim that “I always have a fine time with whoever I’m with.”
Veta, played by Rachael Hubbard, is Elwood’s social-climbing sister. She finds Elwood and his imaginary friend a bit of an embarrassment and an obstruction on the path of her social-climbing ways. Hubbard physically claims her territory as she “leans-in,” maneuvering her daughter, Myrtle, played by Catherine Gilbert, and trying to control the uncontrollable.
Veta decides to have Elwood committed to the sanitarium where we eventually meet Dr. William Chumley, played by Chuck Leonard. Leonard is both commanding and unhinged in various parts of the story, and we can only imagine what has taken place in his meeting with Harvey. After a good round of mistaken identity generated by the confusion of Dr. Sanderson, played by Richard Isaacs, we know we are in line for a good amount of solid fun.
And it’s not just the mistaken identity that goes round and round. There’s a neat revolving set that reminds me of an onstage Lazy Susan. The design by Matt Liptak easily transforms from the well-appointed drawing room of Elwood’s home with rich wine tones and details including fireplace, mantel, and framed portraits to the clean lines of the “Chumley’s Rest” sanitarium in medical green with clean white borders.
The sound team, led by Alan Wray, does some nifty things with period music, notably just a bit of one of Spike Jones’ satirical arrangements and other choices that fill the few seconds between the carefully handled scene changes.
This is an active stage with doors that open and close with ease even for Harvey, with actors that physically embody their characters, and with other “just missed” opportunities as characters collide or fail to connect. As an audience member, there is a lot of good fun in just trying to see what is not visible but somehow is very real.
Harvey is evidence that it is “our dreams that keep us going,” and that we should value people for their differences.
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission