Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Mary Poppins
Harvey is set in a small town and focuses on Dowd and his sister Veta. Elwood feels the need to introduce his seemingly imaginary friend Harvey to everyone he meets, and why shouldn't he? Of course, Veta fears the embarrassment of her brother's belief in the existence of Harvey, not just for herself but also for the reputation of her daughter Myrtle Mae who is at the marrying age. So Veta decides the best thing for everyone involved is to have Elwood committed at the local asylum and be given a treatment to make him "normal." The play is an interesting one, as it is not only an expertly crafted comedy but one that touches on the serious theme of "what is sanity?"
Davis is giving a sweet, understated and perfectly measured performance as Elwood P. Dowd. While the character is eccentric and odd, Davis brings the appropriate amount of charm, caring, and love to him. He also perfectly captures the sheer happiness and sunny disposition of this man who wants to have a connection with everyone he meets. Chase's script and Davis' performance make us believe that it is Harvey that has made him into this man, one who wants to truly live life. While some may think he is crazy to believe his best friend is a giant imaginary rabbit, we do start to believe in Harvey, and when the play ends I believe most people in the audience would say he wasn't imaginary, just invisible. Davis has such warmth and compassion in this role that you not only wish he could be your friend but that you could hang out with him and Harvey at their local bar some night.
As Veta, Donna Kaufman has the range of emotions one would expect from a woman with a brother like Elwood, particularly in the last act when she has to make a very important decision about his future. Kaufman is appropriately high strung as Veta. Her crazy rants and wide range of emotions are in perfect opposite to Davis' performance, which is exactly what is needed and goes back to that theme of what is sanity and could the person we believe to be insane actually be the sane one? Madeline Hickman is funny, forward and sexy as Veta's daughter Myrtle Mae.
J. Kevin Tallent portrays Dr. Chumley, the main doctor at the asylum, and when Mrs. Chumley, played by Ginger Muth, comes to visit him, the scene the two actors share is touching, lovely and humorous. Muth is a gem in the part. Tallent shows a belief in the possibility of Harvey's existence, even while trying everything he can not to. However, during the scenes when he is trying to get away from Harvey, Tallent could be even more out of sorts to better show how he is supposed to be going insane in front of our eyes. The asylum staff are played by Keaton Honaker, Virginia Olivieri and Clayton Marlowe, all of whom do well with their slightly crazy parts. I especially liked Marlowe as Wilson the orderly who tries to run things as brisk as possible and can't believe the people around him start believing in the possibility of Harvey actually existing. However, the fact that there is such a wide age range between Marlowe and Hickman makes the scenes with the two of them, when Wilson is making advances toward Myrtle Mae, a bit uncomfortable.
Olivieri not only plays a supporting role but also directs the production with appropriate shades of comedy and seriousness. She also has a clear focus on the craziness that the events of the struggle between the sane and insane can create. Brent Coatney (who also has a brief cameo as a taxi driver with a very important message) has created an effective set design that perfectly allows, with just a few moveable walls, a change from the Dowd home to the asylum. Tamara Treat's costume designs are a nice mixture of period designs.
Harvey is a well-crafted comedy, and this production features a fairly effective ensemble cast with some great performances from Davis, Kaufman and Munch. It is recommended for any fan of classic comedies.
The Desert Stages production of Harvey runs through January 11th, 2014, with performances at 4720 N. Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are available at www.DesertStages.org or by phone at (480) 483-1664
Director: Virginia Olivieri