AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Mary Chase
Directed by Jeanie K. Smith
Presented by Palo Alto Players
Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA /(650) 329-0891

Reviewed by Judy Richter

It's easy to like Elwood P. Dowd. It's also easy to like Mary Chase's "Harvey," presented by Palo Alto Players.

Played by Evan Michael Schumacher with a gentle, unassuming smile, Elwood is a 37-year-old bachelor who lives in the Dowd family home with his widowed sister, Veta Louise Simmons (Mary Price Moore), and her 20-something daughter, Myrtle Mae (Alison Koch).

Elwood is a genial soul who instantly connects with people and gives them his card. He apparently has many friends at the local bars he frequents.

He seems normal in every way with one big exception -- Harvey, a 6-foot-tall rabbit that only he can see. Harvey accompanies Elwood almost everywhere. When Elwood enters a room, he holds the door for Harvey. When Elwood sits, he pulls up a chair for Harvey. He introduces Harvey to people.

It's no surprise that his sister and niece are so embarrassed by his behavior that they want to commit him to a sanitarium, Chumley's Rest. However, when Veta goes there to sign the necessary papers, she becomes so wrought up that admitting psychiatrist, young Dr. Lyman Sanderson (Scott Solomon), decides she's the one who needs to be commited.

In the meantime, Myrtle Mae becomes attracted to Duane Wilson (Drew Reitz), the rough orderly at Chumley's Rest, while Dr. Sanderson and the facility's nurse, Ruth Kelly (Nicole Martin), fight their mutual attraction.

It takes some time for everything to be sorted out, thanks in part to the sanitarium's owner, Dr. William R. Chumley (John Musgrave), and the Dowd family attorney, Judge Omar Gaffney (Tom Farley).

"Harvey" premiered in 1944 during World War II and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945. It has an upbeat sweetness that war-weary audiences undoubtedly welcomed and that still seems relevant today.

Elwood was originally played by James Stewart, who went on to star in the 1950 film as well as stage revivals in 1970 and 1975. Schumacher puts his own likable stamp on the character, playing him with an easygoing charm and innocence.

Directed by Jeanie K. Smith, the supporting cast is uneven. Solid performances come from Musgrave as Dr. Chumley and Farley as Judge Gaffney. However, Martin as the nurse and especially Koch as Myrtle Mae overact.

Designed by Ron Gasparinetti, the set quickly transforms from the elegant Dowd library to the utilitarian reception room of Chumley's Rest. Lighting by Selina G Young, costumes by Cynthia Preciado and sound by Gordon Smith complement the production.

Thanks in large part to Schumacher and his invisible pal, this is an enjoyable show.

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