Community Players Perform ‘Harvey’
Players Present Tale of the Six-Foot Rabbit
Presented by MIT Community Players
Directed by Eric Lindblad SM ’00
Written by Mary Chase
Starring Ben Dubrovsky, Sheridan Zabel, Cyndi Vongvanith ’03, James Camp G, Maureen Graham, Peter Floyd ’87, Don Hovey, and Ken Stern
Kresge Little Theatre, May 10-12
Nothing compares to a good paradigm shift. Few people saw it coming, but this weekend brought with it a refreshing rush of surreality by the Community Players’ production of Harvey. As witty as it is charming, Harvey is the story of an imaginary friend with whiskers.
“Harvey is a rabbit. A big, white rabbit. Six feet tall,” describes the protagonist, Elwood P. Dowd (Ben Dubrovsky). Endowed with a hefty trust fund left by his mother, Elwood spends his days gallivanting in bars with his imaginary friend, Harvey. Unusually charming, well-spoken, extraordinarily polite, and witty, Elwood has something of an alcohol problem.
Elwood is seen as a family humiliation by his overbearing sister Veta (Sheridan Zabel), who hasn’t a drop of the trust fund. She can’t seem to get her daughter, Myrtle May (Cyndi Vongvanith ’03), married off because Elwood sabotages all of her social contacts by introducing them to his imaginary friend.
In exasperation, Veta decides to commit Elwood to a sanatorium. Led by nationally acclaimed Dr. Chumley, the facility is a tribute to dysfunction. Dr. Chumley’s office is crowned with latent sexual tension between Dr. Sanderson (James Camp G) and Nurse Kelly (Maureen Graham) and an aggressive, Nurse Ratched-esque character named Wilson, who manhandles all of the sanatorium’s patients.
The joy of Harvey lies not in the story, but in the lovably flawed characters created by writer Mary Chase a half-century ago. By the end of the play, it is impossible not to fall in love with Elwood and equally hard not to believe in Harvey.
“Einstein has overcome time and space. Harvey has overcome time, space, and objection,” says Elwood, who in guised inebriation, converses with Harvey constantly, pulls up chairs for Harvey, and introduces Harvey to everyone he meets.
Dubrovsky does an excellent job in portraying Elwood, speaking in a dry and mechanical manner that wouldn’t ordinarily fly with any standard role. But Elwood’s role is a tad special and merits the Nathan Lane-like delivery perfectly.
Delivering lines like “I wrestled with reality for 40 years and I am happy to state that I won out over it,” Dubrovsky presents himself as a wry but articulate fellow -- a friend and companion to all. His dialogue with other characters is equally memorable. Whenever asked “Can I help you with something?” he responds, “Oh, what did you have in mind?”
Dubrovsky’s captivating performance did more to excite the audience than any other element of the show. But comparable performances were delivered by the many supporting actors. Sheridan Zabel, who played Veta, brought with her a shrill stage presence demanded by the role. A squat woman with the wrath of a hedgehog, Veta invokes fond memories of Mrs. Bucket of British television’s Keeping Up Appearances. Extremely concerned with social status, (“the parlors and halls are festooned with lilacs”), Zabel has great stage presence.
Veta leads the troupe in on-stage squabbling with Drs. Sanderson and Chumley, with Nurse Kelly, with her lawyer Judge Gaffney (Don Hovey), and with Elwood. And for all of her on-stage tirades, one soon realizes that she is the indispensible glue to Harvey, tying each of the characters together and tying the play to the society and time setting. Camp and Graham, who play Dr. Sanderson and Nurse Kelly, add a slightly-clichÉ romantic element to the play. Playing the perfect bastard, Camp does an excellent job as Dr. Sanderson, secretly carrying the torch for Kelly. Graham, in turn, delivers stinging comebacks to Dr. Sanderson and gains dimension for her character through her emotional frenzies.
Complementing some very stellar performances, however, were distinctly professional technical elements. The set design was not only elaborate and beautiful, but remarkably functional, even for Kresge Little Theater. A disorienting ’50s set with bookcases, forced grandiloquence, and rotary telephones made for Elwood’s home. This contrasted starkly with the sanatorium -- by and large a Cuckoo’s Nest sanatorium -- with disturbingly bright lighting. Furthermore, the sets actually revolved in a maneuver so cool, it aroused the applause of the entire audience.
With the great acting and creative sets, Harvey was a fantastic amateur production peculiarly missed by too many students. The Community Players, unique because of their diverse ages, brought to Kresge Little Theater an elaborate production, the likes of which rarely take shape at MIT.