For the past 23 years I’ve thoroughly, even ecsatatically enjoyed every production (even the student directed productions) at a local university. This evening, I feel as though I attended a fairly mediocre high school production of the classic comedy, HARVEY.
There were numerous times throughout the play where I wondered if characterization had even been addressed with the fine, capable actors this school magnificently collects. More often than not, it seemed as though the actors were simply mugging caricatures of various media comedians, or re-creating some of their favorite roles from high school. Had the actors been afforded stronger leadership from the directing chair, their character choices would have been much, much closer to target.
Two fine actors I’ve enjoyed in previous productions played the roles of Elwood P. Dowd and Dr. Sanderson with far more accuracy, and believably, than their cohorts. Elwood was cute, sometimes smug, and offered a more energetic approach than the oft repeated, less-energetic Jimmy Stewart portrayal. Dr. Sanderson was polished, and never deviated into the campy and absurd.
Dr. Chumley was nothing more than an Orval Redenbacher knockoff, and came off even less believable. Elwood’s sister, Veta, seemed more suited to the role during the first act, but somehow, during the second act, became Florence from the television sit-com, THE JEFFERSONS. Veta’s daughter, Myrtle, had a voice that was too brassy, sometimes abrasive, that the diction was unintelligible. To match this, the characterization was mostly misplaced.
In a short while, Mr. Wilson’s (the orderly at the mental facility) way, way over the top antics and shouting became a tsunami of angst. The nurse was hot and cold, but mostly leaned more toward the hot side when paired with Elwood or Sanderson.
It seemed as though Dr. Chumley’s wife and the cabdriver did not even receive a nod from the director. It was a grand feast of overacting, supplied with gestures and staged gimmicks from mediocre high school productions.
I am still proud of the work the actors attempted. They were swinging hard, but the coach neglected to hand them a bat.
And at the end, everyone around me commented on the fact that Harvey did not receive a bow.