Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Bell, Book and Candle, Legends Of: The Werewolf, Next to Normal, Pound

Rob Stuart
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
Mary Chase's 1944 Pulitzer Prize winning play Harvey is a well-crafted comedy full of charm, humor and heart. Hale Centre Theatre's production features assured direction, rich creative elements, and a talented cast, including Rob Stuart in a sweet and solid performance as Elwood P. Dowd, whose best friend Harvey just happens to be a six-foot-tall rabbit.

Harvey is set in a small town in the 1940s where Elwood is intent on forming friendships with everyone he meets and introducing his best friend Harvey to them. That puts a strain on Elwood's relationship with his sister Veta who fears the embarrassment of Elwood's belief in the existence of Harvey will cause everyone in town to think their whole family is crazy. That is especially of concern for Veta's daughter Myrtle Mae who is at the marrying age with her mother hosting parties to introduce her. So, Veta decides the best thing for everyone involved would be to have Elwood committed at the local asylum. However, things don't go exactly as planned.

Chase's script is bright and breezy, though it does take a little while for all of the elements to come together and for the insanity of the situations to fully form. Fortunately, director Mitchell Glass treats the material with respect without forcing the comedy or pushing too fast. Glass also allows the more heartfelt moments to shine while also ensuring the hilarity of each comical moment gets big laughs.

Rob Stuart delivers another wonderful performance as the sweet, caring, warm, and eccentric Elwood P. Dowd, who has perfect manners and treats everyone with respect. Stuart never crosses over the line into caricature or cartoon but delivers a perfectly even-measured performance of a happy, loving, compassionate, and three-dimensional man. Petey Swartz is excellent as the high-strung Veta, who is desperate to introduce her daughter Myrtle Mae to the world at a social gathering and who quickly becomes completely frazzled once things get out of hand when she checks Elwood into the asylum. Swartz has played this role before so she clearly has a good understanding of the character and what is needed in order to derive laughs from the crazy rants and the unfortunate situations Veta finds herself in.

The supporting cast all contribute good work and create humorous characters. Justin M. Howell is stern and wacky as Dr. Chumley, the head of the asylum who might just be a little crazy himself after Elwood introduces Harvey to him. Kelly Hajek is bright and warm as the nurse Elwood takes a shine to. Aaron Seever is charming as the other doctor at the asylum whose mistake sets the insanity of the plot in motion. Sarah White is flirty and fun as Myrtle Mae, and Bobby Jean Owensby plays two parts, including the role of Dr. Chumley's wife, adding fun, humorous touches to both. Brandon Caraco is hilarious as the orderly at the asylum who has no problem handling unruly patients and who can't believe when people around him start believing that Harvey might actually exist. As the family friend who gets pulled into the mayhem, Tom Endicott is appropriately kind and gentle. Chuck Green is fun in the small but pivotal role of a taxi driver.

Hale's creative elements, as usual, are top notch. Kate Hansen's scenic and props design incorporates furniture and set elements that work well to depict the two locations in the play. The costumes by Tia Hawkes and Jacki Marin and the hair and make-up by Cambrian James are character specific and period perfect.

While Harvey may be a comedy that is a little slow going in the beginning, with a rich assortment of characters, humorous situations, and a plot that is well-crafted, it's easy to see why this classic comedy continues to get produced. With wonderful performances from the entire cast, clear and concise direction, and rich creative elements, Hale Centre Theatre's production is a charmer.

Harvey runs through November 16, 2021, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information visit or call 480-497-1181

Producers and Casting Directors: David and Corrin Dietlein
Director: Mitchell Glass
Set Technical Director: Brian Daily
Lighting Designer: Tim Dietlein
Costume Designers: Tia Hawkes and Jacki Marin
Scenic, Paint and Props Designer: Kate Hansen
Sound Design: Jackson Zyontz
Wigs and Makeup: Cambrian James
Audio Engineers: Jackson Zyontz
Stage Manager: Joshua Lindblom

Elwood P. Dowd: Rob Stuart
Ruth Kelly: Kelly Hajek
Veta Louise Simmons: Petey Swartz
Myrtle Mae Simmons: Sarah White
Dr. Lyman Sanderson: Aaron Seever
Dr. William B. Chumley: Justin M. Howell
Judge Omar Gaffney: Tom Endicott
Ethel Chauvenet/Betty Chumley: Bobby Jean Owensby
Wilson: Brandon Caraco
E.J. Lofgren: Chuck Green