A Classic Comes to Newtown Arts: HARVEY

by Jean and Bill Brenner

Amanda Cutalo and Jim Banar in a scene from Newtown Arts Company's HARVEY, playing through June 29.

Apparently, many people have imaginary friends, or so we’ve been told. So, why should it be a surprise that Elwood P. Dowd has a friend only a few people can see, and then, only occasionally.

Harvey is the friend. He is a 6-foot tall white rabbit, a “pooka” in whom Dowd believes so earnestly that he manages to persuade even his psychiatrist that Harvey exists. (Harvey also sometimes accurately predicts the future!) At one point, Dowd comments, “I’ve wrestled with reality for 40 years and I am happy to state that I won out over it,” capturing the essence of the play.

HARVEY, by Mary Chase, premiered November 1, 1944, playing for 1,775 performances. Later, in 1950, the story became better known when Jimmy Stewart played Dowd in the movie that garnered four Oscar nominations and for which he was nominated as Best Actor in a leading role.

It has been years since we had seen a production of HARVEY. We remember enjoying it a lot the first time and wanted very much to like this production by the Newtown Arts Company. However, we liked only some of what we saw.

For instance, while the dialogue pace was good, staging could have been more creative. Many times, actors were lined up across the stage instead of being staggered interestingly. Other times, people stood in the same positions for long periods of time while the dialogue begged for movement.

Also, several of the women’s voices often were too shrill. While Dowd’s sister, Veta Simmons, is written as an excitable character, and while actress Joanie Keehn was credible as an actress, her voice was in the upper registers too much of the time. Amanda Murphy (Myrtle Mae) and Rebecca Bancroft (Mrs. Chumley) had similar issues. In other words, there was way too much screaming. Directors ought not permit that vocal problem.

On the other hand, C. Jameson Bradley was really good in the leading role of Elwood P. Dowd. He had the character down perfectly – charming and smooth. We believed that HE believed his friend Harvey was there on stage beside him.

Amanda Cutalo played Nurse Ruth Kelly very well as did Joe McKernan as Dr. Sanderson, both staying in character throughout their scenes and resisting the temptation to be melodramatic. Timothy Costello, in the very tiny role of Lofgren bears mentioning because does a nice, believable job as the cab driver on stage for about 5 minutes, only.

One reason these four actors are worth mentioning is that they did not play for the laughs; they took their characters seriously and the laughs followed. Hans Peters should be mentioned, also, as Dr. Chumley. He had some good moments.

Fortunately, the actors were able to play to an appreciative audience on a stage with an interesting, cleverly designed set by D.J. Markley, constructed by Chris Langhart and Michael J. Coluccio and painted by Allison Fontana. The “library” in the beginning of Act one and Act II had a nice “finished” look. The doctor’s office looked clinical, as intended. (But, what was that eye chart doing there?) Newtown Theatre has limited backstage and wing space, so building sets for Newtown Arts Company shows is always challenging.

Costumes by Ann D’Silva and lighting by Eric Silverman were for the most part, completely appropriate.

HARVEY was directed by John Rasiej and produced by Eric Silverman at the Newtown Theatre, 120 North State Street, Newtown, PA. It plays through June 29. Ticket prices vary according to seating. Call 215-860-7048 or visit www.newtownartscompany.com.

by Mary Chase
Directed by John Rasiej
June 23-29, 2011
Newtown Arts Company
120 N State St
Newtown, PA 18940

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