by Terrance Mc Arthur
How can there be a play where the star of the show is never seen?
Wellllll, it helps if the star happens to be an invisible, six-foot-tall rabbit.
The answer is Harvey, Mary Chase’s 1944 comedy classic, lovingly presented by the Fresno Pacific University Theater Department through November 19.Elwood P. Dowd (Joseph Ham) is a pleasant fellow who does drink a bit. His best friend is Harvey, a mythical pooka* which can be seen by Elwood, but not by most people. Elwood’s sister, Veta (Steph Gonzales) wants him committed to a sanitarium . . . or made to be “normal.” At Chumley’s Rest, run by Dr. Chumley (Edgar Olivera), Veta’s explanation of Elwood’s relationship with Harvey is misinterpreted by the young Dr. Sanderson (Izaiah Ruiz), causing a comedy of errors domino effect.
Elwood has been played by Jimmy Stewart, Frank Fay, Joe E. Brown, Dooley Wilson (Sam in Casablanca), Art Carney, Donald O’Connor, Harry Anderson, and Jim Parsons. Joseph Ham creates a calm, gentle character, friend to everyone he meets, with an unswerving gaze that sees good in each person (or creature) he meets. He’s low-key, but someone you’d like to meet (a lot like Mr. Ham).Gonzales takes the social-climbing desires of Veta to practical level, fueling it with her concerns for launching Myrtle (Alex Hodson), her daughter, into society and the marriage market. She is frustrated and embarrassed by Elwood, and Gonzales cranks up the angst to manic levels with scarcely a breath of a pause.
Hodson, is tall, willow-thin, angular, and a hoot, awkward but endearing. She portrays love at first smile with ease.
Sabelosethu Mlaba shows a swaggering ease as Wilson, an orderly at Chumley’s Rest. He gets a rude awakening when Harvey intrudes into his reality in a subtle way. Mlaba alternates in the role with BK Robinson.Olivera’s Dr. Chumley is an easily nonplussed administrator, reminiscent of Michael Tucci in Diagnosis Murder, but with desires for wish-fulfilment that could lead to negative actions. Izaiah Ruiz as Dr. Sanderson is quick to jump to a diagnosis, but he is earnest and trying to fight his attraction to Nurse Kelly (Lindsay Martin). Martin is perky and energetic, with a touch of the cynical that turns medical conversations with Sanderson into steamy confrontations.
Hannah Navia (Mrs. Chumley) is pleasant as Elwood weaves his character’s spell of making people feel good and kindly toward him. Judge Gaffney handles the Dowd legal affairs, and Alex Lujan is gruff, all-business, and prone to righteous indignation. He’s fun to watch.Two cameo appearances provide stellar moments: the luminous Janet Glaude as a society matron confused by Elwood’s new friend, and Edwardo Cazares as a cabbie with the key to understanding human nature when aided by medical science. They grace the stage for small amounts of time, yet they leave lasting impressions.
Elizabeth Fiester directs with a sure confidence that makes the outlandish seem logical . . . and even desirable. Technical director Brandi Martin creates a double-sided set that spins, stretches, and folds to change from one scene to the next. Brooke Aiello’s costumes plant us firmly in the Colorado of 1947, with beautiful dresses, crisp medical wear, and elegant cocktail party attire. The women’s hairstyles are marvelous blasts from the past.
At the curtain call, the loudest cheers and applause are for Harvey when he enters . . . and he does. This is a nostalgic fantasy that will make you wonder about what is really important in life—getting ahead, or kindness. Choose wisely.
Performances will be in the Lin Family Performance Studio, part of the Warkentine Culture and Arts Center, on the main FPU campus, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., Fresno. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com/e/fpu-theater-presents-harvey-by-mary-chase-tickets-399615078457 or at the door.
*Pooka—a mischievous spirit or sprite of Irish folklore, who often appears as a human-sized animal, magical in nature, and thank you for following the asterisk to find out about me.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.