Jim Parsons, Emmy-winner for television’s “Big Bang Theory,” is charming Broadway audiences in Mary Chase's 1944 long-running, Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, Harvey,a Roundabout Theatre Company revival at Studio 54.
Parsons plays Elwood P. Dowd, an amiable, decent chap who seems perfectly ordinary except that his best friend and constant companion is a six-foot-plus invisible rabbit named Harvey. Elwood is unflappable with unfailing good humor; he meets people with enthusiasm, and his communication is always literal, even with those who present the greatest threat. As you might suspect, Elwood and this mythical “pooka’s” friendship provokes unease in the upscale social circles of Denver.
Elwood’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons, played with broad comic flair by Jessica Hecht, is at her wits end, believing her social standing has been put in jeopardy because of her brother’s eccentricity. Her great fear is that her daughter, Myrtle Mae (Tracee Chimo), is losing any chance for a good marriage. Desperate, Veta plots to place Elwood in a sanitarium, Chumley Rest, setting off a series of comical harassments.
The supposedly professional staff at the hospital, bewildered by Elwood and his mythical pal, tumbles like dominos. The rigid authority of Dr. William R. Chumley (Charles Kimbrough) is thrown into confusion. His by-the-book associate, Dr. Lyman Sanderson (Morgan Spector), and befuddled nurse, Ruth Kelly (Holley Fain), all know what to do when a new patient arrives but the placid Elwood is far from usual, turning the immaculate rest home turns into discombobulation. Not only does Elwood, with his pal, Harvey, slip away from the sanitarium to go to Charlie’s Bar for a drink, but Veta herself is committed, and chaos reigns.
Like every comedy that aims for the heart, there is a basis of truth behind the laughs, and here it is as fundamental as one man’s offbeat way of battling life’s challenges. As Elwood puts it, "I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it." With Harvey by his side, Elwood is not thrown off kilter by the actions of his harried sister or by a baffled family friend, Judge Omar Gaffney (Larry Bryggman). He wins over Dr. Chumley’s quirky wife played by Carol Kane, but the fact is, with his attitude of peace and freedom, Elwood is gracious with everyone but really has no personal connection with any particular person. Unless you count the invisible tall bunny.
Harvey was a successful play for Frank Fay, a popular film for James Stewart in 1950 and Jim Parsons (acclaimed for last year’s revival of The Normal Heart) earnestly brings Elwood’s sweet nature to the stage. His open facial expressions, definitive movements, and comments to Harvey add a bizarre persuasiveness to the existence of the rabbit. Directed with Scott Ellis’ firm vision, Parsons plays down the original version’s alcoholic slant, although Elwood’s comfort zone seems to be with the gang at Charlie’s Bar.
David Rockwell’s elegant set revolves easily to display the Dowd’s old-money paneled library and the white sanitarium reception area. Jane Greenway’s dead-on 1940’s costumes includes Harvey’s hat, featuring, of course, two ear holes. Elwood carries around the hat with care, placing it close by and making sure no one sits on it.
In today’s era when 28-day rehabs and a prescription for Xanax are the solutions to life’s problems, Harvey takes us down a different route that sweetly suggests two hours of fun with a heart and a brain.