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Theater Review: Harvey

PC: Brett Wulfson
In the introductory moments of “Harvey,” , we’re immediately aware that something is wrong with Elwood P. Dowd, the gentle soul played by Michael Pulliam. While Elwood is especially agreeable, displays excellent manners and is a generous conversationalist, he keeps referring to his invisible friend, who he refers to as “Harvey.” Without spoiling the surprise (especially for those unfamiliar with the play or the celebrated 1950 James Stewart film vehicle), the title character is referred to as a “pooka” and can only be seen by Elwood. Although Harvey’s presence is impossible to detect, his ongoing friendship with Elwood becomes a burden to those closest to him. As various individuals intervene, an odd question arises: is Harvey real or imagined?

Dale Button’s production of Mary Chase’s “Harvey” at the Historic Iao Theater is a gentle charmer. Pulliam’s wonderful performance anchors this and is a big reason it works so well. There’s a danger that the character of Elwood presents for an actor: We’re supposed to find Elwood endearing but there’s potential for a performer to come across as either smug or creepy. Pulliam avoids this by digging deep and showing us an unflappable, courteous and open-hearted man. Elwood isn’t unlike Forrest Gump or Chance the Gardener in his inspiring naiveté and Pulliam finds the balance in making him both ingratiating and dotty. His monologue of having first encountered Harvey is especially touching. Rather than mimic James Stewart, Pulliam gives shape to a figure both odd and adorable. I believed in his Elwood and loved every moment he shares with his unseen co-star.

PC: Brett Wulfson

In supporting turns, Beth Garrow is excellent as Elwood’s fed up sister Veta, whose journey takes an most unfortunate turn. Hana Valle makes a plucky Myrtle Mae, Marsi Smith is perfect as the deliciously named Betty Chummy and Scott Smith is solid as the unctuous Judge Gaffney.

Button’s direction keeps a steady pace and encourages fine work from the ensemble cast. Caro Walker’s gorgeous set is worthy of special mention, as its rich with detail and beauty. The show’s Running Crew does a fine job of manipulating the massive set pieces and Ricky Jone’s lighting design makes for some effectively stylish moments.

PC: Jack Grace

A visual gag to treasure is the hilarious portrait that becomes a living room centerpiece. The simple reason why it made me laugh so hard- the fuzzy paw resting on the shoulder.

“Havey” explores the limits of social etiquette, as Elwood’s state of mind may be cracked but no one can deny how sweet and kind hearted he is. Like Don Quixote in his final moments, the question of whether “curing” Elwood and healing him (by way of making Harvey disappear) is a tender one. Is waking the dreamer and shaking them back to reality ever the right thing to do?

PC: Jack Grace

Chase’s play acknowledges how tricky this notion is. While Button has fashioned a quiet, observant comedy, the piece resonates with its thoughtful (and thought-provoking) depiction of how we adapt to an adult with a seemingly child-like imagination. While the reveal of Harvey’s identity is awfully funny, it’s the sweet nature of the premise that resonates.

Harvey plays at The Historic Iao Theater Sept 29-Oct.15th. Tickets can be purchased by calling 808-242-6969 or by going to mauionstage.com.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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