Monday, July 9, 2012

Harvey leaves audiences hopping with laughter

We recently spent a weekend in New York City and had the privilege of seeing Jim Parsons in Harvey -  here's Geoff's review.

                                                                                     image credit:  Joan Marcus


NEW YORK CITY – Credit Jim Parsons for his unquestionable bravery in tackling the lead role in Mary Chase’s amiable comic fantasy Harvey.

Not that the work is considered to be a literary masterpiece – even though it inexplicably beat out Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie for the 1945 Pulitzer Prize. More to the point is that the 1950 film version nabbed Josephine Hull an Oscar for best supporting actress while James Stewart got a nomination for best actor.

The simple reality is that the character of Elwood P. Wood has been inexorably linked to Stewart for the past 62 years and deservedly so because of his wonderfully mild-mannered and delightfully eccentric performance that just lit up the silver screen.

Yet Parsons, the affable young star and two-time Emmy winner from the TV comic smash The Big Bang Theory, clearly felt it was a worth a shot, at least if nothing else to prove that he is not simply the oddball physicist Dr. Sheldon Cooper he plays on television.

He proves that and much more, serving up a nicely-paced performance that swaps the oft times nerdy swagger of his TV alter-ego Cooper for the more refined and simple charm of Dowd. While the character may be an alcoholic tippler to the extraordinaire, Parsons nonetheless projects equal measures of civility and extreme small-town politeness.

Much like Stewart, he succeeds in extolling the virtues of simply being nice.

The Roundabout Theatre Co. production, while not re-inventing the play, offers up a well-acted modern day update of the classic tale of a man and his invisible rabbit.

So who exactly is Elwood P. Dowd?

He’s a middle-aged, overly pleasant individual whose best friend is an invisible six foot three inch tall white rabbit named Harvey. The creature, seen only by Dowd, is a pooka – a harmless but mischievous mythical being from Celtic mythology that seems to gravitate towards odd folk, like Dowd.
Why the name Harvey?

One doctor asks Dowd - “Wasn’t there someone, somewhere, sometime, whom you knew—by the name of Harvey?”

Dowd explains with convoluted logic: “No, Doctor. No-one. Maybe that’s why I always had such hope for it.”

Handing out his business card to everyone he happens upon, as if he were dishing out candies to little children, Dowd is a kindly gent who simply can’t say to anyone. Witness the phone call from a saleswoman, urging him to join the Ladies Home Journal magazine club. He doesn’t just buy one for himself but one for his invisible friend.

He even invites the caller to a party being hosted that very moment by his long suffering sister Vera (played by Jessica Hecht with elements of both constraint and frustration).

Ultimately Veta attempts to have her brother committed at the local sanatorium but as expected – certainly by audience members – the doctors instead imprison her. This is the first key sequence in a series of scenes highlighted by chaotic nonsense, mistaken identities, chases, a rather lame romantic subplot and even a few moments during which doors open and book pages turn by some unseen force.

For Parsons – whose first Broadway debut was last year in The Normal Heart – it’s a triumph with plenty of well-timed physical gags and enough brisk one-liners to keep even the most jaded New York’s theatregoers happy during the course of the evening.

Stewart’s Dowd will never be forgotten but Parsons has cultivated an enjoyable theatrical patch in the Harvey tradition.

Backing him are several Broadway veterans, including the aforementioned Tony-nominated Hecht, Larry Bryggman and Carol Kane, whose single scene almost steals the show. The energetic Hecht, who also shines in AMC’s dark TV series Breaking Bad, also gets one of the best lines, wearily revealing to one doctor, “I’m going to tell you something that I’ve never told anyone in the world before. Every ... once in a while ... I see that great big white rabbit ... myself.”

Tony nominee Charles Kimbrough (Company, Sunday in the Park With George and the TV series Murphy Brown) has great fun hamming it up as William R. Chumley, M.D., head of the sanitarium known as Chumley's Rest, adding nice touches of frustration, fear, bewilderment and an assortment of lunatic characteristics that would seemingly belie the basic principles of psychiatry.

Harvey is at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., through Aug. 5. Tickets ($37-$127) can be bought through Roundabout Ticket Services at 212-719-1300 or online at Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

Harvey garners ***1/2 stars out of four.

You can also find this review online at: the beat magazine


  1. Elaine-- who doesn't love Harvey???? Geoffs review is wonderful as usual-- I'd sure love to see the show! You are so lucky to be able to visit there so often--


    1. Hi Vicki - this show was actually on 54th in NYC - at the old Studio 54, to be precise. It was great fun.