In 1945, playwright Mary Coyle Chase became the fourth woman to ever receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Her 1944 play “Harvey” is best known for its 1950 film adaptation starring James (Jimmy) Stewart ’32 as Elwood Dowd, a man reasonable enough — except that he claims an unseen giant rabbit as his best friend.
Theatre Intime’s current production of “Harvey,” directed by Matt Blazejewski ’17, showcases many strong performers and strong aesthetics. Nonetheless, the production is a standard if not flat rendition of the play, only marginally touching on themes of acceptance and inclusion.
The audience first meets Veta Louise Simmons (Anastasia Repouliou ’18) and her daughter Myrtle Mae Simmons (Rebecca Schnell ’18), who comically skirt the topic of their family member’s best friend for as long as possible.
Complications emerge when Simmons attempts to commit her brother to a psychiatric institution. During Simmons’ preliminary interview with the young Dr. Lyman Sanderson (Marcelo Jaimes-Lukes ’19), Sanderson decides it is Simmons — not her brother Dowd — who needs treatment. When Sanderson discovers that the eager-to-please nurse Ruth Kelly R.N. (Katarzyna Kalinowska ’19) and the bumpkin Duane Wilson (Matthew Chuckran ’17) have already committed Dowd, madness and mayhem ensue: Sanderson and his highly esteemed employer Dr. William R. Chumley (Sean Toland GS) must right their wrong, find Dowd and attempt to solve the psychiatric puzzle behind “Harvey”.
A number of performances are particularly strong. Jaimes-Lukes is well suited for the role of the levelheaded Dr. Lyman Sanderson and Toland excels as the highly esteemed Dr. William R. Chumley. In her cameos, Sally Lemkemeier ’18 lights up the stage as Ethel Chauvenet and Betty Chumley. Chuckran, a relative newcomer to the campus theater community, gets a number of laughs in his performance as the incompetent and illiterate Wilson.
Luke Soucy ’19 gives a phenomenal performance as Elwood P. Dowd. Very much channeling Stewart’s “down-to-earth” persona, Soucy carries both Dowd’s comic and philosophical moments well.
The aesthetics of “Harvey” are above par for Princeton productions. Costumes (Emma Claire Jones ’18) are the best Theatre Intime has seen in years. Stunning 1940s ensembles following a pastel palette are many. Though some dresses — namely, the dresses worn by the maid and nurse — are too short, the costumes are by and large gorgeous and period-appropriate. Schnell dons a beautiful floor-length rose-color dress and, later, a tea-length navy-blue ensemble. Repouliou wears red — a matronly black-accented dress at first and a shirt and skirt ensemble later. Lemkemeier’s outrageous fur coat reveals a stunning teal dress and jacket — perfectly suited for actor and character alike. The male ensembles are smart, period-appropriate, color-coordinated and, in a revolutionary move for Princeton theater, clunky character shoes are nowhere to be found, with actors instead donning T-strap heels and stylish period shoes.
The set (Matthew Volpe ’16) is split into two: half the stage makes up the Dowd estate and half the psychiatric institution. Though the set walls might be at a bit too steep of an angle and the clearance between Dowd’s desk and the set wall is a smidge too narrow, all in all the set is brilliant. The upstage mahogany double doors transform into a hallway in the psychiatric institution. One side of the desk serves as a personal desk at the Dowd estate and when turned around, the other side serves as the work desk in the sanitarium. The coloring is beautiful: a dark, rich wood for the estate and an off-white and teal dressing for the psychiatric institution.
Moving past performances and aesthetics, however, the production becomes a bit wobbly. Audience members are mere bystanders to Dowd’s estrangement from his family and friends while themes of acceptance and inclusion really only enter the discussion in the last five minutes of the play. Blocking is sloppy if not poor, lines are dropped and overacting is commonplace; indeed, the play neither occurs in reality nor in the absurd, but in an uncomfortable in-between.
“Harvey” as a text can be considered a masterpiece in the canon of American drama. This production undoubtedly features strong performances and aesthetic qualities. Though Blazejewski’s rendition does provide its audience a couple of hours of chuckles, it does little to expand the boundaries of theater at Princeton University.
Theatre Intime's “Harvey,” is playing April 7 and 8 at 9 p.m. and April 9 at both 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Murray Theatre, Murray-Dodge Hall.
Pros: iconic piece of American theater, good laughs, strong performances and high-quality aesthetics
Cons: little thematic advancement until the final five minutes, sloppy blocking, frequent inappropriate overactingPaws: 2.5/5