As the city of Houston continues to slowly recover from last week’s devastating floods brought on by Hurricane Harvey, one local theatre is rallying to open a previously planned production of the Broadway comedy that shares a name with the historic storm.
A.D. Players, a professional non-profit theatre located in Houston, Texas, announced plans last year to present Mary Chase’s light-hearted 1944 farce Harvey as the opening production of its 2017-2018 season. The crowd-pleasing Broadway classic about a man whose best friend is an invisible six-foot-tall rabbit, would officially inaugurate the company’s brand-new 440-seat theatre in Uptown Houston.
Last week, however, it looked like Harvey might not materialize at all. With rehearsals on hold in the storm’s aftermath, and a planned September 8 opening night looming on the horizon, A.D. Players faced the dilemma of presenting the comedy that shared its name with what had just become the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
The decision came down to the theatre’s newly appointed executive director, Jake Speck, an actor with New York credits including the Broadway cast of Jersey Boys, who relocated with his family to Houston only three weeks prior to the storm.
Speck says there was a brief moment he considered canceling the play. “But the actors had been in rehearsals for weeks, designs were complete, sets and costumes were constructed and tickets had been sold,” Speck says.
When news came that the company’s new theatre sustained only minor damage in the storm, Speck and the theatre’s board saw an opportunity to move forward with the play and give back to the greater Houston community.
“We were incredibility fortunate that our theatre went unscathed,” Speck says. “Because our space was largely unaffected, I believe we have a responsibility to do something to help.”
A.D. Players proudly bills itself as the only professional Christian theatre company in Houston.
“We decided this was a great opportunity to take the unfortunate irony of the title and turn it into something positive and to give back,” he says. “We believe our city needs a laugh now more than ever. Not to mention, we would have been putting lots of artists, technicians, carpenters, crew members, etc. out of work if we canceled.”
The opening night was pushed back by one week, and the theatre announced that Harvey would begin previews September 14 with a series of arts access and fundraising initiatives called Harvey For Harvey. Flood victims and first responders will be able to attend any performance of Harvey free-of-charge, while A.D. Players plans to donate 20 percent of all box-office proceeds from the run to disaster relief efforts. The cast and company will also collect monetary donations at each performance.
“I must give credit to our board of directors for seeing the value in initiatives like these and putting our community ahead of box-office revenue,” Speck says, adding that response from the community has been overwhelming. “We’ve received several messages of gratitude from those who have been affected by the floods as well as messages of encouragement from our core supporters and patrons who are cheering on our efforts.”
The relief efforts hit particularly close to home for several staff members at the theatre. “We have full-time employees who lost everything, others who have been displaced from their homes for months to come, and more who have lost cars and other possessions,” Speck says.
“We are going to do all we can to help our people and our community at large. I am so proud of our team for rallying together—even those whose homes were flooded have been here participating—to do something good for the city and to help in a very real and practical way. It’s time for theatre to do what it does: Entertain, educate, and inspire… And hopefully raise a little money in the process.”
Harvey begins performances September 14, and will officially open September 15 for a run through October 1.
Harvey is directed by Julie Traber, with a cast including A.D. resident members Patty Tuel Bailey (Veta Louise Simmons), Kevin Dean (Elwood P. Dowd), Craig Griffin (William R. Chumley, M.D.), Ric Hodgin (Judge Omar Gaffney), and Chip Simmons (E.J. Lonfgren), as well as guest artists Jeff McMorrough (Duane Wilson), Marcy Bannor (Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet), Elizabeth Black (Betty Chumley), David Matranga (Lyman Sanderson, M. D.), Bree Welch (Ruth Kelly, R. N.), and Skyler Sinclair (Myrtle Mae Simmons).
The production team includes set designer Ryan McGettigan, lighting designer J. Mitchell Cronin, costume designer Macy Lyne, and sound designer Jon Harvey.
Flood victims and first responders can obtain tickets by calling the George Theater Box Office at (713) 526-2721. Tickets for purchase, ranging $20–$70, can be obtained at adplayers.org.