PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Harvey Leads a Mary Chase

By Harry Haun
15 Jun 2012

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There's a physical plausibility that Parsons would have slim and lanky Jessica Hecht for a sister — the equally batty but socially aware Veta, who's so unhinged about having a rabbit around the house she sometimes sees him, too — an admission that gets her a speedy admission to the asylum instead of her amiably loony brother.

Hecht's biggest hurdle is the formidably squat shadow that Josephine Hull's ghost still casts over the role (thanks to the 1950 movie that won her an Oscar). Short and dumpy, she was the go-to actress for addle-brained siblings. (In Arsenic and Old Lace, play and film, she wielded pretty mean elderberry wine on occasion.)

Somehow, Hull didn't intimidate the game, brave and resourceful Hecht. "There is no way I could be anything like her," the actress wisely reasoned. "There's nothing that I could do that would ever capitalize on who she is. You know, she's just so radically different that I thought I had to go a whole other direction." So she did just that.

She opted for a psychological explanation for Veta's hilarious, high-collared hysteria: "I had an instinct about this time period — and maybe it's unfounded — but I had a feeling because essentially the period we're talking about [1944] is when women were freed from this emotional bondage they were in. They were all pent-up, then Freud had this idea of psychoanalysis and these hysterical women kinda finding themselves. And that's really, I think, just what happened with Veta. I started to realize there was plenty of room for me to experience that.

"Freud died in '39, and it was late '30s-early '40s that all this activity was happening in terms of therapy, and she really strikes me as someone who would deeply benefit from that experience, so I just really went for it."

Tracee Chimo
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The apple doesn't fall very far from this family tree. Veta's first- and only-born, Myrtle Mae, is likewise a suitable case for treatment — although here, as played by Tracee Chimo with just a smidgeon of her Type-A Bachelorette performance, the character is not the mousy, spineless spinster she usually is.

"Myrtle Mae has lots of sass," she agreed. "I loved playing this part. I'm not used to revivals. I normally do original contemporary work, so it's a real treat to dip back into another time period and play with that and find my way."

But she does appreciate the innocence and sweetness that cling to the play. "That's my favorite part," she admitted. "I think, actually, one of the most beautiful things about this play is the innocence and remembering the childish enthusiasm that we all should hang on to. It's the most beautiful part of our adult life. We forget the inner child, and this play reminds us it's kind of a wonderful thing to hang on to."

As the tightly wound but easily unraveled figurehead of the sanitarium Chumley's Rest, Charles Kimbrough starts out with a firm grasp of reality, but it gets away from him, and he's a shambles by the final stretch. "Basically, he's a humorless creature — till the end, then it's all gravy." It's a strenuous comic workout, his first since winning the 2010 St. Clair Bayfield Award as the colossally scattered Prince of Arragon.

"I'm starting to have fun with this. It was more challenging than it looked. I haven't done a play since The Merchant of Venice — I've been quiet, I've been semi-retired — but this came along and won me over, and I said, 'Yeah, I want to do that.' When we started rehearsals, there were certain physical challenges in the part that I hadn't realized in the beginning. This wild cross from the door to the office has to be absolutely unrestrained. You gotta just go crazy. It took me a while because I did something to my knee. You're always shocked to find you're the age you are. When you try to do something like that, your body talks to you very sharply. It says: 'What the hell are you doing?' So it has taken a little while to get my stamina back."

Carol Kane does her squeak-and-dither number as Chumley's wife. "I just love her simplicity, her willingness to have fun," she said. "This play is written so beautifully. The set design, the costume design, the lighting — it's just a gift to be part of." Plus, she didn't have to do any special bonding with Kimbrough so they'd seem married: "A long time ago, down at The Public Theater, we did a workshop of a John Guare play together called Marco Polo Sings a Solo."