Wednesday, July 18, 2012

theatre review HARVEY, Broadway, June 30

Casting an A list TV name in a Broadway show is something that has been going on for years.  Usually it is something that happens when a show is waning, ticket sales are down and the producers do whatever they can to get some buzz and lure in the tourist crowd.  So, it is refreshing that the producers of the Broadway revival of Harvey scheduled this production to coincide with Jim Parsons' down time from the hit show The Big Bang Theory.  I'm sure the fact that this is a not for profit limited run production from the Roundabout Theatre Company made it easier to work around his schedule, as it isn't like the run could be extended since he has to return to his tv show.  With a lovely performance from Parsons and an excellent ensemble cast it is just too bad that the timing of Parson's availability made it open after the Tony eligibility deadline as I'm sure this show would have received several nominations. 

Now Parsons did appear on Broadway last season in the revival of The Normal Heart in a small supporting role as well as lead the ensemble in a reading of the play June Moon at the Roundabout last Summer.  And while the central character of Edwin P. Dowd he plays in Harvey is just as eccentric and odd as the part he plays in The Big Bang Theory, Parsons brings the appropriate amount of charm, caring and love to Dowd which is an almost complete opposite of the tv role of "Sheldon" that has won him two Emmy Awards. 

Jim Parson and "Harvey"
Harvey was written by Mary Chase in 1944 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  Focusing on Dowd and his sister Veta and set in a small town, Elwood also has a seemingly imaginary friend Harvey who is, according to Elwood, a six foot tall rabbit.  Elwood feels the need to introduce Harvey to everyone he meets, and why shouldn't he? Wouldn't you introduce your best friend to people you come in contact with?  Of course Veta fears the embarrassment of this not just for herself but also for the reputation of her daughter Myrtle Mae who is at the marrying age.  So Veta decides the best thing for everyone involved would be to have Elwood committed at the local asylum and given a treatment to make him "normal."  The play is an interesting one as not only is it an expertly crafted comedy but one that touches on the serious theme of "what is sanity?" 

Parsons is giving an understated and perfectly measured performance as Elwood.  He lovingly captures the charm, passion and sheer happiness of this man who wants to have a connection with everyone he meets.  But we also believe that it is Harvey that has made him into this man, a man who wants to truly live life and while some may think he is crazy to believe his best friend is a giant rabbit we come to learn that it is most likely the death of his mother that triggered this new relationship in his life.  But maybe not as while Harvey seems only to be imaginary, we start to believe in him and when the play ends I believe most people in the audience would say he wasn't imaginary just invisible.

Charles Kimbrough, Jessica Hecht and Jim Parsons
Parsons is known for playing the outsider in his tv show but the outsider he plays here is one who desperately wants to be in, unlike Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory who would never want to be in that crowd.  And while the voice and mannerisms are similar between the two characters, after all it is the same actor playing both, the similarities end there.  Parsons has such warmth and compassion in this role that makes you not only wish he was your friend but that you could hang out with him and Harvey at their local bar some night. 

As Veta, Jessica Hecht has the appropriate range of emotions one would expect from a woman with a brother like Elwood particularly in the last act when she has to make a very important decision about Elwood's future.  Her crazy rants, rubber facial expressions and wide range of emotions are in perfect opposite to Parsons performance which is exactly what is needed and goes back to that theme of what is sanity and could the person we believe to be insane actually be the sane one?

Carol Kane and Jim Parsons
Charles Kimbrough is the head doctor at the asylum and when his wife played by Carol Kane comes to visit him the scene she shares with Parsons is touching, lovely and humorous.  Kimbrough starts to believe in the possibility of Harvey's existence even while trying everything he can not to and the scenes when he is trying to get away from Harvey are not only well crafted in how Chase wrote them but also staged and directed expertly with Kimbrough literally going insane in front of our eyes.  The asylum is staffed by Morgan Spector, Holly Fain and Duane Wilson and I especially liked Wilson as the orderly who tries to run the show in a brisk and brusque fashion and can't believe that the people around him start believing in the possibility of Harvey actually existing. 

Scott Ellis directs the production perfectly with the appropriate shades of comedy and seriousness but always with a focus on the craziness that the events of the struggle between the sane and insane can create.  David Rockwell has created a large and lovely revolving set design that perfectly combines the two sets and includes some great rabbit designs embedded into the wallpaper of Elwood and Veta's house.  Jane Greenwood's costume designs are top notch with crisp period perfect designs.

Harvey is a well crafted comedy and this production features a top notch ensemble cast with some great performances including Parsons, Hecht, Kimbrough and Kane.   It runs through August 5th and is not to be missed.

Official Roundabout Site

Clips from the production: interview with Jim Parsons:

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