Harvey — a charming comedy of errors — takes to the stage at the Chemainus Theatre Festival starting May 6.
This Broadway play, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Mary Chase, dates back to the 1940s, but its story is still fresh and fun.
Chase asks the audience, “What is normal, really?”
At first glance, the play’s central character, Elwood P. Dowd, seems your cordial, middle-aged everyman who likes nothing more than to have a drink in the local bar with his best friend.
So far, so good, except that his pal is a six-foot-tall invisible “pooka” (rabbit) named Harvey.
Elwood has a socially ambitious sister and she’s tormented by such unconventional behaviour.
Not unexpectedly, she arranges a trip to a sanatorium where her brother will be given a “cure-all” injection.
It’s a scenario fraught with possibilities, and an entertaining series of events puts Chase’s question front-and-centre.
The humour of Harvey hides a moving message, according to show director Julie McIsaac.
“The comedy opens us up to the present moment. We’re all in pursuit of happiness but Harvey makes us reconsider this far-off, elusive future that we’re chasing. Maybe true happiness and wellbeing are closer than we think. But we might have to live outside the box to find out,” she says.
Under Chase’s treatment, the story moves from Elwood’s self-constructed reality of perpetually pleasant days to the surprising activities of his invisible friend.
“But what could be simply silly also has great depth,” MacIsaac says. “Elwood’s sunny outlook on life is genuine; in recalling the words of his mother, he explains, ‘In this world, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant. For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.’”
By contrast, Elwood’s sister Veta, and her daughter Myrtle Mae are both convinced that to climb the social ladder without embarrassment, Elwood must be committed to that sanatorium.
At the asylum, the question of normalcy is raised, and one family member is indeed committed “but to find out who is really mad as a March hare – or rabbit – you’ll have to come see the show,” according to the director.
The cast of Harvey is comprised of professional character actors with skill in slapstick and farce. Festival artistic director Mark DuMez is playing Elwood.
Around him, you’ll see a talented ensemble.
Sets are by Brian Ball with costumes by Michelle Lieffertz.
Wondering if the world needs more normal people or more Harveys? Get your tickets now.
Evening and matinee shows run May 6-28. Reserve seats online at chemainustheatre.ca. or by calling the box office at 1-800-565-7738.
There are show enhancements available, too.
These include free “talk-backs” with the cast and crew following Wednesday performances (where more information about the prize-winning story will be shared); a special show-themed dinner add-on in the contemporary Playbill Dining Room (featuring an impressive hot buffet, fresh salad bar, and tempting desserts); and, for anyone who has guests visiting the area, a full “getaway” package at the Best Western Plus Chemainus Inn (which includes accommodations, show dinner, deluxe breakfast buffet, use of the indoor mineral pool, hot tub and fitness centre).