Harvey Takes The Stage
Winter Play Captures Imagination
Painting by Loueta Chickadaunce
The classic story of Elwood P. Dowd and his invisible rabbit named Harvey comes to life this month on the Taft School stage. “Harvey” debuts Wednesday, February 15 at 1:00 p.m. in Bingham. Performances continue Thursday, February 16 at 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, February 17 and 18 at 8 p.m.; no tickets are required.
Elwood is a middle-aged eccentric whose best friend is Harvey, a six-foot tall invisible rabbit. Elwood, played by Taft senior Tommy Rowe, introduces everyone he knows to Harvey, including his exasperated sister Veta and frustrated niece Myrtle, played by freshman Vienna Kaylan and junior Liz Demmon. Veta and Myrtle begin to wonder whether Harvey is a product of Elwood’s drinking, or if it is a true mental illness. A comedy of errors ensues when Veta tries to have Elwood committed to a sanatorium.
“At face value, this is a tried and true, old feel-good comedy,” explained director Helena Fifer. “People know the story from the Jimmy Stewart movie or from Broadway, where he originated the role of Elwood. At its core, it is more than a comedy. It shows us that kindness really does go far, though it sometimes can be misinterpreted.”
In preparing students for the play, Fifer thought it would be important for them to understand the culture surrounding mental illness and institutionalization in the 1940’s. School counselor and psychology teacher Rachel Russell helped the cast bring both sensitivity and authenticity to their performances without losing the play’s comedic edge.
“The kids are very astute,” notes Fifer, “and are able to hold on to the reality while embracing the play’s basic message.”
“Harvey” was written by American playwright Mary Chase in 1944; it debuted on Broadway the same year. Chase received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work in 1945. Costumes on loan from Torrington’s Warner Theater effectively transport the cast to the period, as do designer David Kievit’s “clever and imaginative” sets.
“The play is set in two locations,” Kievet explained, “the Dowd family mansion and the reception area of the sanitarium. Each location appears in each Act. The cleverness is in changing from one to the other without the benefit of "Broadway" tracks, motors, and budgets. Student stage crew members, Watertown residents Peter Linn and Ben Garfinkel, along with Blake Joblin and Natasha Batten will be dressed as sanitarium orderlies and doctors as they transform the stage set in full view of the audience.”
Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" – she always called me Elwood – "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.
—Elwood P. Dowd