Written by Mary Chase in 1944, “Harvey” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the following year. The original Broadway production ran for over four years (1,775 performances) and was directed by Antoinette Perry (for whom the Tony Awards were named). Frank Fay (subsequently replaced by James Stewart and Joe E. Brown) and Josephine Hull starred in this production. In 1950, the most notable film version was made with James Stewart and Josephine Hull who won and Academy Award for a Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
…an evening of entertainment that will make you laugh, think, maybe even shed a tear or two, and leave the theater refreshed with the fun and enjoyment of great theater.
The play quickly became a staple for amateur theater productions. The first Broadway revival in 1970 starred James Stewart and Helen Hayes. Regional theatre productions in the 1980s and 90s—as done at Woolly Mammoth, The Guthrie, and Steppenwolf—renewed interest in the play. “Harvey” has played in London’s West End as well. Successful television versions featured many stars including James Stewart and Helen Hayes in 1972. The 2012 Broadway revival, starring Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”), had a short run to mixed reviews. Leslie Bricusse wrote a musical version starring Donald O’Connor in 1981 called “Say Hello to Harvey” which closed in previews. A 1951 Negro Guild Production featured Butterfly McQueen.
Everyman Theatre has pulled out all the stops for this production resulting in one of the most enjoyable evenings I have experienced. The playwright’s intent, to dispel the gloom of post-World War II, is also badly needed in today’s world of pandemic stress, political divisiveness, and violence. Jackson Gay’s direction of Everyman resident company and other actors offers fast-paced action and dialogue in 1940s comedic style, reminiscent of the frenetic antics of Keystone Kops, the Marx Brothers, and “I Love Lucy.” The laughs are continuous while, at the same time, offering a message about friendship, loyalty, and tolerance.
The revolving set depicting the library of the Old Dowd Mansion, designed by Daniel Ettinger, is beautifully decorated with period furniture, built-in bookshelves, framed paintings, sconce and table lights, a fireplace, flowers, and wallpaper around the proscenium, all indicating a stately mansion. The reversed set, depicting the reception area of Chumley’s Rest Sanatorium, is stark white in contrast, with just enough color from the built-in bookshelves, desk items, and windows to offset the patient-intake atmosphere. Aja Jackson’s lighting design and Porchanok Kanchanabanca’s sound design (upbeat period jazz music played during scene changes) add to the enjoyment. Normally I would say “hats off” to wig designer Denise O’Brien and costume designer David Burdick, but in this case I say “hats on” because the wigs and hats are not only clever and colorful but match the very eye-catching, multi-faceted costumes of the actors: a print dress with tiny bows; a magnificent vintage fur stole with fox tails hanging from each end; staid suits for the doctors and judge; hospital attire for nurse and attendant; a country squire outfit for Mr. Dowd; and even a hat with two holes for Harvey’s ears!
The cast, a perfect blend of Resident Company Members and guest actors, includes Bruce Randolph Nelson as Elwood P. Dowd; Megan Anderson as Veta Simmons; Beth Hylton as Miss Johnson/Betty Chumley; Deborah Hazlett as Mrs. Chauvenet; Hannah Kelly as Myrtle Mae Simmons; Grant Emerson Harvey as Dr. Lyman Sanderson; Morgan Danielle Day as Nurse Ruth Kelly; David Bishins as Judge Gaffney; Paul Morella as Dr. William Chumley; Alexander Kafarakis as Duane Wilson; and Kyle Prue as E.J. Lofgren. This play has such excellent ensemble acting, there is not enough room for individual praise. Suffice it to say that you’re in for an evening of entertainment that will make you laugh, think, maybe even shed a tear or two, and leave the theater refreshed with the fun and enjoyment of great theater. A final note: only once, in a Boston production, did an actor portraying Harvey actually appear onstage. In a 1945 interview, the producer Brock Pemberton recalled, “a chill descended on the audience which never quite thawed out afterwards.” Thus is the power of imagination vs. reality!
Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
“Harvey” runs through May 21, 2023 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore MD 21201. For more information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at (410) 752-2208. Standard Box Office hours are 10 am – 4 pm Monday through Friday and 12 noon – 4 pm on Saturday or visit the website here. Masks are recommended but not required.