BWW Interviews: Carol Kane on the Magic of HARVEY
During a prolific career in theater, film and television, Carol Kane has personified eccentricity and lovability in many of her roles. From her Emmy award-winning turn in TAXI as Simka Dahblitz-Gravas, the wife of Andy Kaufman's Latka Gravas, to more serious parts (HESTER STREET), Kane has always managed to engage an audience.
Her film credits have swung from G-rated parts (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) to the more mature (CARNAL KNOWLEDGE). She has two upcoming films, CLUTTER, about hoarding, and SLEEPWALK WITH ME.
These days Kane can be found in the Broadway revival of HARVEY, starring Jim Parsons of THE BIG BANG THEORY. The play takes place in Denver in the mid-1940s and centers on Elwood P. Dowd, a pleasant and kind character who makes friends with everyone he meets. His one flaw is his constant companion – a 6-foot-3-and-a-half invisible rabbit named Harvey.
Dowd's sister Veta (Jessica Hecht) and niece Myrtle Mae (Tracee Chimo) conspire to have Dowd committed to a sanitarium run by Dr. William R. Chumley, (Charles Kimbrough), the husband of Kane's character, Betty Chumley. Although she appears in only one scene, Kane makes an indelible mark on the rest of the cast.
Kane would rather not typecast her character because, "I don't like to objectify the people I play. I always try to go for the truth in any part," she said. "I was taught by a lot of great comedy writers to go for the reality in a role and the comedy will come through."
Betty Chumley, she said "helps bring to the other characters an inadvertent revelation to the others about the effect of Harvey."
Her appearance is a visual delight as well. Thanks to the talents of costume designer Jane Greenwood (who has more than a hundred Broadway/Off Broadway credits), Kane makes a dramatic entrance wearing a vibrant, violet coat detailed by numerous glass beads. The dress beneath is a paler version of the coat. Forties' styles pumps and a vintage hat augment the look, and a period little-black beaded bag adds the final touch to the ensemble.
"I consider Jane a partner in my performance big time," Kane said during a recent interview.
Written by Mary Chase, the play earned the playwright the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945. "Harvey" was immortalized on film in 1950 with James Stewart as the big rabbit's pal.
"It's a very charming play," Kane said. "I thought that Jim would be great in his role and I thought it would be fun to do." Kane hasn't seen the movie for many years and hopes that when the show closes (Aug. 5) the entire cast can gather to watch the film together. It would be the first viewing of the classic for Parsons, who decided to avoid examining other portrayals as he prepared to play Dowd.
"I think most actors are very impressionable and that's part of what we do is soak up other behavior. Jim wanted a pure interaction with the character and he didn't want to recycle Jimmy Stewart's performance."
An added poignancy to the tale is that Mary Chase (the playwright) had a neighbor who had lost a son in World War II, the time frame of the story, Kane said. "This neighbor was full of sorrow and Mary wanted to write something that would make this woman laugh again. So it's a very special story on many different levels," Kane said.
And how does Jim Parsons compare to Jimmy Stewart? "Jim is exceptionally gracious and generous," she noted. "He's really an old soul, an old-fashioned guy with lovely manners. He definitely shares a lot of traits with Elwood."
Kane has so many favorite scenes in the play it proved a challenge to mention just one. "I have lots of favorite moments. One is when Veta is talking to the doctor and Wilson [Rich Sommer] is in the front door and roughly handles Elwood, who goes along with anybody.
"Elwood is just a simple, pleasant guy and doesn't get rattled by anything," Kane said. "It's a shame more people aren't like that.
Harvey runs through Aug. 5 at the Roundabout Theatre Company, Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.