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The Blue & Gray Press | August 19, 2019

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Whimsical ‘Harvey’ charms audience



The lights go up, and the audience in the University of Mary Washington’s Klein Theatre is transported to a lovely parlor straight out of the 1950s.  And so begins “Harvey,” a charming and quirky comedy.

The play follows the polite—if slightly odd—Elwood P. Dowd, played by freshman theatre major Josh Culhane.  A pleasant, charismatic man in many respects, Elwood possesses one small oddity that separates him from his friends and family.  His best friend is a pooka—6 foot 3 1/2 inch tall rabbit, the titular Harvey.

This is much to the chagrin of his sister, Veta Louise Simmons, played by sophomore Taryn Snyder, and his niece, Myrtle Mae Simmons, played by sophomore theatre major Emily Burke.  Fed up with the notoriety Elwood and Harvey are bringing their family, Veta and Myrtle scheme to commit Elwood to a sanitarium.

The result: a delightful production of a wonderfully whimsical play.  Any loose ends have been neatly snipped, and only nuanced performances remain.  In comedy, timing is indispensable, and the comedic timing of the actors in this production of “Harvey” is near-perfect.

Though all Elwood says when he introduces himself is a simple, “Dowd, Elwood P,” his delivery and gallant bow still left the audience in peals of laughter.  Betty Chumley, played by senior theatre major Kimberlyn Frost, expresses her confusion over what exactly a pooka is in only one line, but her exaggerated delivery and hand gestures elevate that line to high comedy.

The chemistry between the actors deserves note as well.  You can almost hear the audience draw in their breath as Dr. Sanderson, played by junior Nick McGovern, leans in to kiss his love interest, Nurse Ruth Kelly, played by undeclared freshman Margaret Lewis, and then let it out again as they nervously break apart just before their lips meet.  Veta, Elwood and Myrtle all relate to each other and drive each other crazy, like any family tends to do.  Culhane’s Elwood creates harmony any time he walks onstage, with his natural delivery and cheerful grin.

The technical aspects of the show are also lovely.  The set does an excellent job recreating the aesthetic of the 1950s.  The set changes were all well-timed and efficient.  The music played in-between scenes sounds like it comes straight from an old record and adds nicely to the experience.

This production of “Harvey” is as brisk and professional as they come.  It is absolutely worth the price of admission, and a lovely way to celebrate UMW Theatre’s centennial season.

Written by Mary Chase, it was first performed under the bright lights of Broadway and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945.  In 1950, the legendary Jimmy Stewart starred in a film remake.  Just this past year, Jim Parsons of “The Big Bang Theory” fame starred in a Broadway revival.  Now, for two weeks only, “Harvey” finds a new home on the Klein Theatre stage.