Review: The Little Theatre’s “Harvey” is a breath of fresh air

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Richard Isaacs (Lyman Sanderson, M.D.), Andy Izquierdo (Elwood P. Dowd), and Lindsey Doane (Ruth Kelly, R.N.) (Photo Credit: Matt Liptak)
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I find it surprising when a local tells me they’ve never attended a performance at our city’s 84-year-old, multi-award-winning Little Theatre of Alexandria.

If you’re looking to impress friends or out-of-town guests who have never experienced its delights, see this cleverly funny production under Frank Pasqualino’s astute direction with a wonderfully quirky cast that breathes fresh life into a comedy better known as a cinematic vehicle for veteran Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart.

Andy Izquierdo (Elwood P. Dowd) (Photo Credit: Matt Liptak)

“Harvey” is the story of an eccentric man, Elwood P. Dowd (Andy Izquierdo), who imagines a six-foot-tall white rabbit, Harvey, as his best friend. Harvey is what is known in Celtic mythology as a “pooka,” a mystical and mischievous spirit in animal form. American playwright Mary Chase, who won a Pulitzer Prize in Drama for “Harvey,” was touched by a stranger’s post-war sadness and wove the image from her Irish heritage into this tale of an American family.

Meet Ovid-spouting Elwood – a tippler who lives with his socially correct sister, Veta Louise Simmons (Rachael Hubbard), and her daughter, the pretty and unmarried Myrtle Mae Simmons (Catherine Gilbert). Due to Elwood’s frequent forays to local bars with his fantastical imaginary friend, the family becomes a target for gossip in their small Western town.

This grinds on the women’s last nerve and they conspire to commit him to the local sanitarium, Chumley’s Rest. Only then can they take ownership of Elwood’s house

Catherine Gilbert (Myrtle Mae Simmons) and Rachael Hubbard (Veta Louise Simmons) (Photo Credit: Matt Liptak)

and, with the scandal tamped down, Myrtle Mae can at last find a suitable spouse. At least that’s their plan.

But as well-laid plans often do, this one goes south when, due to the ineptitude of the sanitarium’s chief psychiatrist, Dr. Chumley (Chuck Leonard), and his awkward and equally inept associate, Dr. Sanderson (Richard Isaacs), Veta becomes the one
committed in a case of the mistaken psychopath.

The audience can ponder the question. Who is sane, who is insane and who is to say? In this instance the doctors prove to be nuttier than the patient. What’s key here is Elwood’s happiness and harmlessness vis a vis a society that regards him as a screwball.

Izquierdo’s Elwood is a wonderful blend of the gestures of straight man Jack Benny and the unruffled dulcet-tones of Mr. Rogers. Other stellar cast members in this three-act comedy include Lindsay Doane as Ruth Kelly, RN, Dr. Sanderson’s nurse and love interest; Patricia Spencer Smith as Mrs. Betty Chumley, the sweetly ditzy doctor’s wife; Tony Gilbert as Judge Omar Gaffney, the family’s attorney; Brendan Quinn as Duane Wilson, the doctors’ thuggish attendant; Mary Jo Morgan as Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet, the disapproving society lady; and David Featherston as E. J. Lofgren, a local cabbie.

Set design is done by Matt Liptak, lighting design by Ken and Patti Crowley, costumes by Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley and sound design by Alan Wray.

“Harvey” brings tons of laughs throughout all three acts. Bring your friends and enjoy.

Jordan Wright writes about food, spirits, travel, theatre and culture. Visit her website at www.whiskandquill.com or email her at Jordan@WhiskandQuill.com.

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