Thursday, May 24, 2018
Stage

'Harvey' captures the imagination

There are reasons the 1944 comedy Harvey has become a classic. It's fun; playwright Mary Chase's script is tight, fast and well-constructed, and when an audience is lucky enough to get a cast as delightful as the one doing the show at the intimate Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse, it's something that brings a smile every time it's remembered.

Credit director Dalton Benson for fine casting that includes theater stalwarts like Allen Magnus and Patricia Villegas, showcases players such as Mickey Mandel who have previously done well in small roles, and introduces experienced actors such as Rich Fogg in their Stage West debuts. Kudos, too, to set designer Lynda Dilts-Benson, whose clever rolling set pieces quickly and unobtrusively change the complete location of the action in mere moments, with professional-level help from cast and crew.

Magnus is simply splendid as the amiable Elwood P. Dowd, the genial and charming gentleman who has befriended the invisible pooka Harvey, described as a 6-foot, 3-inch-tall white rabbit that only he and perhaps a few others can see. Magnus' quiet, polite, affable Elwood never takes offense and always assumes the best.

"I wrestled with reality for 40 years," he tells the pompous Dr. William R. Chumley (a wickedly funny Fogg) at the Chumley's Rest sanitarium, where his sister has taken him, "and I am happy to state I finally won."

That's a total contrast with his sister, Veta Louise Simmons (an uproarious Villegas), whose social ambitions for herself and her spinster daughter, Myrtle Mae (Kathy Capelle), prompt her to commit her brother to a sanitarium, with a plan to assume control of and sell the family home he's inherited from their mother and take off for parts unknown for a life without Elwood and his embarrassing imaginary friend.

Her plotting comes to disaster when the young, handsome admitting physician, Dr. Sanderson (an appealing and composed Devin Devi) mistakenly commits Veta Louise instead of Elwood. The two doctors dig themselves into a deeper hole as they try to avoid a lawsuit over the whole thing.

Top-notch performances are also turned in by Mandel as the grandiose Aunt Ethel Chauvenet; Lizz Voorhees as the pert, spunky nurse Ruth Kelly, who understandably beguiles any man she meets; Sam Petricone as the pushy, boisterous sanitarium orderly Duane Wilson; Maurice Batista as the courtly, perplexed Judge Omar Gaffney; Gary Depp as the insightful taxi driver E.J. Lofgren, whose words turn the tables on Veta Louise's nefarious plot, and Sherry Fogg as the chatterbox Betty Chumley.

Forum shows eschew the use of body mics, so the volume of the actors' voices vary widely, with some often distressingly soft and others jarringly loud. Perhaps judicious suggestions from stage manager Sandy Penwarden could help the actors modulate those variations, which would add greatly to the enjoyment of the show, especially for those in the front and back rows.

That said, the Stage West version of Harvey provides a totally enjoyable 2 1/2 hours of well-done entertainment. No surprise, then, that word of mouth from the cast, crew and those at the final dress rehearsal about the play's merits prompted so many ticket sales that the theater was obliged to add a Saturday matinee even before opening night.

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