Harvey By Mary Chase
Directed by Jay Hopkins
Starring William Hagaman, Jac LeDoux, Kevin Zepf, and Robert Diachesyn
Jester Theater Company
Presenting at the Orlando Shakespeare Center
Ah, those golden old days when drunks were comic characters and delirium tremens was a plot driver. Elwood P. Dowd (Hagaman) is such a man, he inherited money and uses it to print business cards and employ distillers. His closest companion is invisible Harvey, a 6 foot invisible pooka. Harvey’s presence (real or imagined) infuriates Elwood’s sister Veta (LeDoux) and his niece Myrtle Mae (Snyder); they prefer the more suffocation society of the heavily perfumed Elderly Money crowd. Elwood is damaging their social calendar so Veta removes the gentle and fluid Elwood to a rehab center run by Dr. Chumley (Diachesyn) and his assistant Dr. Sanderson (Zepf). As psychiatrists go, they are quick to diagnose and even quicker to incarcerate and Veta thinks this is wonderful until she finds herself in the hydrotherapy tub. Meanwhile Elwood passes out business cards and tries to drum up drinking friends, Dr. Sanderson flirts with Nurse Kelly (Jamie Thomason) and Dr. Chumly hides in his office and curating his reputation in the head shrinking community. It’s all quite silly, but here’s the takeaway: having money is better than having sense, and being pleasant will get you father down the road than excessive intelligence.
Who’s who and where they are drives this comedy of mistaken diagnoses and pre-Obamacare health services, and even though the set threatens to steal the second act it’s an evening of warm and friendly comedy. Hagaman is genial with a deadly sense of timing, and Mr. Diachesyn starts out slow and full of himself but builds a slow burns resulting in brilliant flames of laughter. Zepf and Thomason have some nice chemistry, and Elizabeth T Murff appears for the all too small role of imperious Mrs. Chauvenet. Ms. Ledoux is ditzy and wound up too tight, and her daughter Ms. Snyder has a good handle on late Victorian stage posing. The best supporting role was Duane Wilson (Max Hilend) as the violent orderly who hauls people off to the hydrotherapy room. He’s like Nurse Ratchet but with better comedic timing.
With telephones providing offstage exposition and bathtubs presented as the novelty technology of the day there’s a dated feeling to the script. But “Harvey” is a classic comedy of errors and misunderstandings, and when handled as well as this production it’s still packed with laughs. Hagaman seems more mentally deprived than alcoholic, he never does the horrible things real life drunks do to damage their loved ones. Elwood holds his ground as a calm center in a screwball comedy, and appears exactly when needed to let others bounce laughs off his geniality. Harvey becomes more and more real as the story unfolds, by the end even rigorous Dr. Chumly sees him, and Harvey goes from a figure of divisiveness to a uniting figure in everyone’s life. It’s tempting to draw a parallel to the divine: the world is full of Gods, they aren’t always believed, but when they are they, too unite us and divide us. And if you’ve never seen the face of your God, how do you know he’s not a 6 foot tall white rabbit?
For more information on Jester Theater Company, please visit http://www.jestertheater.com