Bay City Players Bring to Life a Beloved Classic About the Fine Line Between Fantasy, Reality, and What's Important in Life

    icon Feb 27, 2014
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Harvey is arguably one of the most memorable and endearing confections of the American theatre – a mixture of fantasy rendered within the intricacies and daily realities of family life that yields the all too often absent quality of hopefulness, optimism, and connection that dimple the daily routines of existence.

A 1944 play that was written by American playwright Mary Chase, who received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945 for her work, Harvey has been adapted for film and television numerous times, most notably in the 1950 film starring James Stewart, in a performance that (along with It’s a Wonderful Life, that helped cement his reputation as one of our most iconoclastic actors.

Judy Harper and Pam Barnes are presently preparing Harvey for a forthcoming production by Bay City Players that will grace the stage from March 14-23rd and tell the tale of Elwood P. Dowd - an affable man who claims to have an unseen (and presumably imaginary) friend Harvey — whom Elwood describes as a six-foot, three-and-one-half-inch tall pooka resembling an anthropomorphic rabbit.

Earnestly embracing his ‘imaginary’ friend, Elwood introduces Harvey to everyone he meets, which causes his social-climbing sister Veta increasing embarrassment to the point where she decides to have Elwood committed to a sanitarium in order too spare her and her daughter Myrtle Mae from future embarrassment.

When they arrive at the sanitarium, a comedy of errors quickly ensues. The young, handsome, and very flirtatious Dr.Sanderson commits Veta instead of Elwood, but when the truth comes out the search is soon on for Elwood and his invisible companion. When Elwood shows up at the sanitarium looking for his lost friend Harvey, it seems that the mild-mannered Elwood's ‘delusion’ has a strange influence on the staff, including sanitarium director Dr. Chumley.

Only just before Elwood is to be given an injection that will make him into a "perfectly normal human being, and you know what bastards they are!" (in the words of a taxi cab driver who has become involved in the proceedings) does Veta realize that she'd rather have Elwood the same as he's always been — carefree and kind — even if it means living with Harvey.

Interestingly, in 2009 director Steven Spielberg committed to a new adaptation of Harvey, however four months later he quit the project partly due to his inability to find an actor willing to play the role of Elwood.  And perhaps the most unusual production of this work was an adaptation by musical writer Leslie Bricusse, who transformed this beloved classic into a stage musical that opened in 1981 in Toronto, where it closed prior to Washington D.C and New York engagements.

Given that Harvey is such a long-standing classic in the lexicon of both theatre and film, what does Judy Harper feel are the qualities about this play that make it such an appealing tale?

“It was written at a time when the nation needed simple plain entertainment to help them escape from the realities of war,” reflects Harper. “I believe its appeal is still strong today because of the lighthearted manner in which it presents a message about what it means to be human; and the fine line we walk every day between what people perceive as reasonable behavior and what should be considered reasonable behavior.”

Given the dynamics involved with acting skills that need to be summoned to effectively communicate the nuances of the script, Harper is pleased with the cast assembled for the Bay City Players production.  “We have a unique blend in our cast,” she enthuses, “and they range from true veterans to those making their stage debut. It makes for a delightful experience for everyone. John Tanner who portrays Elwood is a consummate pro; and it is exciting as a director to watch John continually take direction and then adapt and make subtle changes through the rehearsal process to create the most believable character possible.”

Sarah Greene brings a bubbly, effervescent energy to the stage that will make it easy for audiences to identify with her character, Veta Simmons, who is a slightly misguided sister that really only wants what is best for her family.”

When asked what she feels is the most challenging component involved with staging Harvey, Judy points to the changing face of time. “I personally find it a challenge to stay true to the time period of this play without making it too ‘corny’ for our modern audiences. The key to me is to assist our actors in creating endearing characters who’s believability stands the test of time.”

As to whether there are any areas of the script or story-line that she is trying to emphasize with his production, Judy notes that “Pam and I just want our audience to see that a little compassion for our fellow human beings can make life a whole lot more enjoyable.”

“It’s not the things but the people in our life that matter.”

The Bay City Players production of ‘Harvey’ will play from March 14 – 23rd. Tickets are available online at Baycityplayers.com or by phone at 989-893-5555.

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