BWW Reviews: HARVEY is Hopping at Austin's Zach Theatre
It's been said that perception is reality. While I completely agree with the statement, it is cause for one major question. Whose perception is reality? Where some of us may see empty air, others may see a 6 foot 3 ½ white rabbit. This odd and puzzling philosophical question is at the core of Harvey, the 1945 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy by Mary Chase. The farce, now playing at Zach's Topfer Theatre, tackles this question, albeit with far more humor and wackiness than you'd ever find in a collegiate philosophy class.
Widely regarded as a classic due to the successful and beloved 1950 film version starring James Stewart, Harvey centers on Elwood P. Dowd (played to perfection by Martin Burke), a friendly, loveable, and kind but possibly deranged man whose best friend is a 6 foot tall rabbit named Harvey, a character who remains invisible to everyone but Elwood. Having a loon in the family is undesirable to Elwood's want-to-be socialite sister Veta and her daughter, Myrtle, so they try to have Elwood committed. Their plan backfires, and hilarity ensues.
Director Dave Steakley does a wonderful job with Chase's fun but odd material. On the page, the plays is many things all at once, including a side-splitting satire and a thoughtful commentary on society's opinions on mental illness, and Steakley is able to let each element shine.
There may be a bit more focus on keeping the show light and fun, but that's hardly a criticism. After all, when Martin Burke is your leading man, seriousness should be tossed out the window. Burke seems born to play a lovable goon like Elwood. With his gleeful giggle and his megawatt smile, Burke creates a character who you adore as soon as he steps onto the stage. Sure, Elwood may be off his rocker, but you still love the guy and root for him. As Veta, Elwood's sister and literary foil, Lauren Lane is remarkably funny. She holds her own against the comedic force that is Martin Burke and showcases the same gifts for physical comedy and line delivery that made her such a fantastic comedic villain as C.C. Babcock on the sitcom The Nanny. Her performance in the second act may induce tears of laughter, so consider yourself warned. While none of the ensemble players get quite as much to do as Burke and Lane, they're all strong performers, particularly Marijane Vandivier as Elwood's Auntie Ethel. They all add to the comedy and whimsy, as does Michelle Ney's revolving set, half of which is adorned with rabbit-inspired artwork and statues, and Susan Branch Towne's colorful and sometimes over-the-top costumes.
While Harvey touches on some heavier topics involving mental health, perception, and reality, Chase's delightfully cheerful and funny text refuses to be bogged down by the themes, and the same can be said of Zach's current production of the material. Harvey is decidedly upbeat, happy, and fun, making it the perfect show for the summer season.
Photo: Martin Burke as Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey. Photo by Kirk Tuck.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one 20 minute intermission.
HARVEY plays the Topfer Theatre at The Zach (1510 Toomey Rd, Austin, 78704) now thru June 16th. Performances are Wednesday - Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets are $25-$65. For tickets and information, please visit www.zachtheatre.org.