A Chat with Scott Ellis
Did you have to do research in order to direct this play?
Yes, I’ve done a lot. I’ve read all the other versions of the script. I went to the library and saw a revival production on tape that was produced on Broadway in the ‘70s with Jimmy Stewart repeating his famous film role. Helen Hayes played his sister Veta in that version. It was fascinating. I also found out that there had been a live production of it on television in the ‘50s with Art Carney. And so I tracked down a tape of it and that’s been terrific to watch. We’re taking pieces of dialogue from all of these different versions of the script and playing around with them. Don Gregory, who governs the estate, is allowing us to add certain lines that were used in the various incarnations of the text. Mary Chase was very involved in that Art Carney production on television and there are some things in it that are really quite lovely.
Who plays Veta in the Art Carney version?
What does the play mean to you?
Eighty per cent of the people I’ve mentioned the title to have never heard of Harvey. No one from the younger generation seems to know it. A certain age group knows it from the 1950 Jimmy Stewart movie. It’s not a play that’s done a lot. What’s so interesting is when you read it you think, what was it like when it was first performed? It must have been fascinating when people first took in this story. The way in which Mary Chase has structured the play is really sort of genius. You hear about Elwood and then you hear that he has a “friend”; that’s it, just a “friend.” Then you’re introduced to Elwood who then brings in his friend and you realize that he’s an imaginary friend, not a real friend. And then later on you find out he’s a rabbit, a pooka. I’m hoping that the audience really doesn’t know the whole journey and people will take the journey like they did the first time the play was produced. And, also, Jim Parsons is very important to this enterprise. You need an actor who can make the role of Elwood his own. After a few minutes you want the audience members who only know the movie version to think, Oh, I’m not imagining Jimmy Stewart in this anymore. I think that’s what Jim will be able to bring to it.
I sense this play deals with convention and how people get treated when they are different.
Yes, exactly. I think it’s so amazing to be working on this play now. Bullying and judgment are part of the national conversation. How are we to treat people who are different, who don’t fit into the norm so to speak? And why do we try to change them? Why can’t we embrace them? Why can’t we embrace those people in the world who aren’t a reflection of ourselves? Why can’t we embrace the individuality of everybody? That’s what finally happens to some of the characters at the end of the play. They get a better understanding of who Elwood and his friend Harvey are. I truly think everyone would really like to have a Harvey in their lives.
Harvey plays at Studio 54 through August 5, 2012. For more information, click here.
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