Sunday, February 26, 2012

Theatre Review: Harvey at BCT

 'Harvey' Appears at Beaverton Civic Theatre
   Review by Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Steve Holgate and Kraig Williams share a scene. Photo by Ammon Riley. 
Beaverton Civic Theatre’s first show of the year, “Harvey,” bodes well for the 2012 season. Although the play was written over fifty years ago, the production clearly demonstrates that the show has lost none of its humorous edge. The opening night full house audience responded enthusiastically to author Mary Chase’s whimsical exposé of the pitfalls of social climbing and the foibles of “modern” psychiatry, and director George Heckert made sure that none of the comic potential of the show was missed.

For those not familiar with “Harvey,” in a nutshell: Veta Louise Simmons and her oh-
so-lovely daughter, Myrtle Mae, have moved back to the old family homestead left
to Veta’s brother, Elwood P. Dowd. Veta aspires to respectability, but fears that her
brother’s eccentricity (he drinks a bit and his best friend is a 6 ½ foot tall invisible rabbit
named Harvey) will be a barrier to her entrée into the best circles. In desperation, she
colludes with the family lawyer to have Elwood committed to a nearby mental institution,
Chumley’s Rest. From the moment the scene shifts to Chumley’s, the play is a classic
comedy of errors exploited skillfully by the entire BCT cast.

Any production of “Harvey” rises (or falls) on the strength of the actor portraying
Elwood P. Dowd. Veteran actor Steve Holgate is brilliantly cast in the lead role; his
quiet confidence, innocence, and understated charm accent his superb comic timing.
Dowd is a gentle and respectful man, and Holgate embodies these qualities in his
approach to the character. The program mentions that Holgate has performed regularly in
a one-man show about Abraham Lincoln – and after seeing him in “Harvey” we are eager
to catch him playing one of America’s greatest and most thoughtful gentlemen.

Elisabeth Goebel as Veta Louise Simmons. 
Photo by Ammon Riley.

Elisabeth Goebel as Veta Louise Simmons brings just the right balance of propriety, tenderness, and hysteria to one of the play’s pivotal roles. Goebel manages to convince us that, despite Veta’s dreadful pretentiousness, she has a lot more in common with her brother than she ever knew. Also, Tonja Schreiber’s Myrtle Mae is convincingly desperate in the role of a man-hungry and frustrated young woman.

Amanda Clark as Nurse Kelley. 
Photo by Ammon Riley.
Among the supporting cast, a clear standout is Amanda Clark as Nurse Kelly. Her exceptionally mobile facial expressions combined with her crisp timing and delivery are reminiscent of Fanny Brice, and BCT is fortunate to be able to draw upon her talents.

For an opening night performance, the production was notably error-free. There were no obviously muffed lines, and each of the principals earned a share of the evening’s many laughs. Given the limitations of the venue (there is no curtain, and wing space is in short supply) the scene changes were effected smoothly. The sets are simple, but sufficient to capture the ambiance of a 1940’s era drawing room
and the sterile intake room in a mental hospital.

Artist Loren Hillman deserves special recognition for the truly remarkable portrait of Elwood and Harvey; the likeness to Holgate is striking, and (unlike the depiction in many productions of the show) she captures Harvey essence as an elfin sprite rather than just an oversized Easter bunny. BCT will be missing a great fund-raising opportunity if they do not auction this portrait off at the end of the season!

“Harvey” is playing at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium through March 11. Friday and Saturday night shows start at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees start at 2:00 pm. 

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and groups (10+), $5 for youth (10 and under).

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