Dysfunction, dementia, delirium tremors — these were not dirty words back in the day when Mary Chase wrote her famous fun-fest, Harvey. Seen today in this much less gentle age, via the revival that arrived June 14 at Studio 54, they are not the stuff of which comedies can be crocheted, no matter how light-fingered.
Nevertheless, it is possible to go with that long-gone innocence that allowed us to find merriment in a thoroughly certifiable, but blissful and benign, barfly named Elwood P. Dowd, who pals around with a great pooka, an invisible six-foot rabbit that can be seen only by him (and, in certain moments of stress, by his sister, Veta).
Obviously, this rabbit tale has some following: the original Broadway production which starred a fey Frank Fay ran 1,775 performances and won the Pulitzer Prize (over— Ouch! — The Glass Menagerie). The 1950 film version and 1970 Broadway revival, both starring James Stewart, met with success as well.
One would like to think that, no matter how dark the times, one can always have an open heart for an imaginary friend who's more than a little outsized and furry.
Presumably, that was the spirit in which the Mary Chase comedy found its way onto the desk of director Scott Ellis. "I read it and loved it and said, 'Let's go to Roundabout and see if we can find an Elwood.' You can't do it without an Elwood."
Elwood P. Dowd, who may or may not be born of woman, requires idiosyncratic casting in the extreme — and bang! "The Big Bang Theory" provided one with Jim Parsons. In addition, he proved theatre-friendly by spending the summer in a supporting (and Theatre World Award-winning) role in The Normal Heart.
"Jim was on the list that Roundabout initially drew up," recalled Ellis, "and I thought, 'That looks interesting' so we went out to L.A. and did a reading of it with him."
The role and the actor made an immediate click, and the clicking continues. "Really, from Day One of starting rehearsal, it has been sheer joy, just doing something different, literally playing a character who is so warm and so embracing of other people as opposed to my Day Job. I love Sheldon Cooper, but he's not warm and embracing.
"It's such a joy to perform this play every night for the audience even though it's live theatre. Things go wrong. You mess up a line. You drop a prop — whatever happens, you always want it to be perfect and it's never perfect. It doesn't matter. By the end of the evening, I feel so overjoyed to have been a part of telling this story, and the audiences' reactions have been so happy and so pleased. It's a credit to Mary Chase. It's just such a solid story. If you just tell it as honestly as you can, people get it, and they love to hear it."
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