Remember when life was easy and happy and the best feeling in the world was meeting a new friend, or making one up? Welcome to the world of Elwood P. Dowd, who comes to life on Bay Theatre’s intimate stage to help us all revisit our childhoods. Bay Theatre produces a marvelous staging of this Pulitzer Prize winning play just in time for the holidays.
Socialite Veta Simmons (Lucinda Merry-Browne) and her daughter, Myrtle Mae Simmons (Brianna Letourneau) live with Veta’s eccentric brother, Elwood P. Dowd (Jim Chance) and his best friend, Harvey, Elwood’s imaginary friend, a pooka or spirit in the form of a six foot, one and a half inch tall rabbit that only Elwood can see. After Elwood introduces Harvey to Veta’s socialite friends including the respectable, Mrs. Chauvenet (Lois DeVincent), Veta decides to have Elwood committed to Chumley’s Rest sanitarium. Unfortunately, while discussing Elwood with Veta, Dr. Sanderson (Brandon McCoy) and Nurse Kelly (Eliza Bell) err and have Veta committed instead of Elwood. Dr. Chumley (Gene D’Alessandro) arrives to sort out the issue and releases Veta, only to have Elwood (and Harvey) disappear. As Veta meets with Judge Gaffney (Edd Miller) to sue Dr. Chumley, Chumley and assistant Mr. Wilson (Joe Cronin) search all around town to find Elwood and bring him back to Chumley’s Rest for treatment. The cast is completed by Mrs. Chumley (Sue Struve) and a cab driver (Phil Amico).
Harvey requires sharp comedic timing and real charisma and Jim Chance as Elwood P. Dowd, is perfect. He has a presence and smile that immediately brings warmth and comfort to his character. He brought a dazzling mix of childish innocence and charm and made everyone even the roughneck assistant, Mr. Wilson, immediately like him. His comedy timing was fluid and graceful and often caught the audience off their guard, including some who had read the script. Chance convinces us that he truly believes that Harvey accompanies him about the scenes.
Lucinda Merry-Browne normally directs Bay Theatre’s productions, so it was a delight to see her working in the spotlight as Veta. Ms. Merry-Browne brings great energy to the stage. Although difficult because she sometimes has to play the straight-woman to other actors, and other times carries the comedy ball, she ably handles both, and convincingly shows us Veta’s tender side at the end.
Brianna Letourneau was quite amusing and quirky as the awkward daughter of the poised socialite. Her facial expressions and body language were entertaining and heightened her performance. Brandon McCoy as Sanderson and Eliza Bell as Nurse Kelly handled their characters, the comedy, plus their suppressed romance extremely well. And Gene D’Alessandro as Dr. Chumley was excellent as the bigger-than-life, pompous psychiatrist who has a life-altering experience. His metamorphosis and eleventh hour monologue was a huge hit with the audience.
Applause goes to director Rick Wade as well, not only for the level of performance from the entire cast but for managing the seven actors on the intimate set which more comfortably fits four at a time. The special effects are special indeed. And set designer Ken Sheats designed an impressive convertible office space with its rotating wall flat and sliding pocket doors. That working doors could be made on all three walls of the small set was quite a surprise.
Not only is this show one of the best of the season, but it is a heart-warming and gut-busting funny one to boot. A young audience member near us clearly enjoyed “catching” the situational comedy and the audience around was amused by her joy in describing some of the gags. Take a holiday journey back to childhood innocence and visit Annapolis’ Bay Theater for this extremely family friendly production of Harvey.
By Mary Chase
Directed by Rick Wade
Produced by Bay Theatre
Reviewed by Ted Ying
Harvey runs thru Jan 10, 2010. For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.