Harvey at the Village Playbox

Easter is coming a little early this year compliments of the Village Playbox. The company presented a show featuring a six-foot one-inch tall rabbit. This cottontail issued something other than candy, however. The treats he delivered brought either good or bad fortune to those he chose. To complicate matters, only one person could see him. Nevertheless, he made his presence known through the vehicle of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize winning comedy Harvey. Your correspondent attended the February 2nd performance.

Elwood P. Dowd (played by Michael Hicks) made his sister (Veta Louise Simmons) hopping mad. His either talking to or about an invisible rabbit named Harvey impeded her and her daughter’s (Myrtle Mae Simmons played by Amy Bannister) efforts to move into high society. Veta decided to have Elwood committed to a sanitarium. While explaining the situation with Elwood and “Harvey” to Dr. Sanderson (Dan McDevitt) she became distressed. Assuming that she must be the person requiring treatment, he committed her and released Elwood.

Veta’s attorney Judge Omar Gaffney (Jay Burton) became involved as did the physician managing the sanitarium, Dr. Chumley (Chuck Klotz). The ensuing search for Elwood led to a series of misunderstandings, comedic hijinks and surprises.

Anita Rowland (assisted by Jan Johnston) directed an entertaining show. The cast made it a spectacular one.

Michael Hicks turned in an award worthy performance as Elwood. The character’s love of humanity came through every moment he occupied the stage. Mr. Hicks smiled often while delivering his lines with warmth and charm. In his scene with taxi driver EJ Lofgren (played by Jason Pollock), Mr. Hicks shook his hand and sounded genuine when insisting he come over for dinner. This occurred just minutes after the two met.

Mr. Hicks had the challenge of working with an invisible sidekick. Elwood described Harvey as a pooka: a spirt that appeared to him in the form of a six foot plus rabbit. Mr. Hicks showed imagination working with this fictional figure. He looked upwards when addressing Harvey. Once he even gave the pooka a friendly wink. Mr. Hicks would either move out of the way or ask others to “make way” for Harvey when walking about the set. His actions showed that whether Harvey existed or not, his character believed he did.

While Phyllis Josephson has done spectacular comedic work all throughout South Jersey, something about the Village Playbox inspires Ms. Josephson to exhibit her best humorous skills. During the winter of 2019, Ms. Josephson appeared in the farcical Noises Off! the company presented. Her portrayal of Veta Louise Simmons brought that classic performance to mind.

Ms. Josephson used a superb delivery when explaining to Dr. Sanderson (Dan McDevitt) why she wanted Elwood committed. She started off calm and steadily became more excited. By the end of her monolog she sounded unhinged. Mr. McDevitt played the perfect straight man in this scene. Other than his jittery finger against the call buzzer, he remained composed.

Ms. Josephson made a comedic entrance as only she could. With her hair disheveled, she stumbled through the door of the library. After collapsing on the couch, she staggered through an explanation to her attorney (Jay Buton) and daughter about getting stripped when mistakenly admitted to the sanitarium.

Amy Bannister’s reaction made this the best scene in the show. Ms. Bannister raised and lowered her eyebrows several times. She kept an arch smile on her face until pressing Ms. Josephson for details. Then she became very serious.

The script included two sets of couples. Their interactions created a host of humorous moments.

Steve Kreal played the sanitarium strong man. He spoke with a tough voice and moved with the grace of a gorilla. His character developed a romantic interest in Amy Bannister’s. Mr. Kreal expressed his feelings with the same rough vocal inflection. Ms. Bannister’s coy responses made their exchanges even funnier.

Dan McDevitt and Ashley Trasser (as Nurse Kelly) played a comedic version of star-crossed lovers. While professing not to like Nurse Kelly, Mr. McDevitt would let some double entendres slip past his lips. Ms. Trasser used perfect facial expressions to show what her character felt. In the course of praising Dr. Sanderson to Veta, Ms. Trasser turned an encomium into a sultry sermon.

Jennifer Maienza portrayed both Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet and Mrs. Betty Chumley. As the former, Ms. Maienza became the caricature of a wealthy woman. She wore a large red hat and a garish blouse of the same hue. Ms. Maienza adopted the parody of an upper-class voice for her character. The whole personna reminded this reviewer of something from a Three Stooges short.

Chuck Klotz played Dr. Chumley as a psychiatrist more anxious than his patients. He used a great voice for the character. It worked very well for when he told Elwood his life’s ambition. The glasses perched at the end of his nose were a nice touch.

Performers Donna Allen and Jason Pollock completed the cast.

The Production Team included: Stage Manager Donna Allen, Set Construction and Lighting/Sound Effects Gary Kochey, Set Painters Jan Johnson, Chris Dziczek and Anita Rowland. Ms. Rowland also handled the costuming along with Amy Bannister.

Harvey may or may not have been real, but the fun was. Those interested in an entertaining evening of theatre don’t need to rub a lucky rabbit’s foot. They should just hop over to the Village Playbox this February. The audience won’t need to be offered a carrot to keep the laughter multiplying during Harvey. Community theatre fans can chew on that until the show closes on February 15th.

 

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