The good news about the Segal Centre’s revival of Harvey, the play about an absentminded man who befriends an imaginary a six foot tall rabbit is that it is a hare brained delight.
The not so good news, is that it only runs until until May 9th.
It’s a sweet, harmless work whose first version in 1944 won a Pultizer prize, then was immortalized on film in 1950 by Jimmy Stewart in the role of the eccentric Elwood P. Dowd and Josephine Hull won a best supporting Oscar for her portrayal of his socially embarrassed sister Vera. The author, Mary Chase, was inspired by the mythical ‘pooka’ , a shape shifter, which in Celtic tradition takes the form of a rabbit. In the Segal production, sensibly directed by Diana Leblanc, R. H. Thomson makes Dowd his own character. He invests the part with a devastatingly zany deadpan performance that is often filled with quirky, endearing surprise. Thomson is every inch believable as someone who wrestled with reality for 40 years and is happy to state that he finally won out over it. Nora McLellan as, Vera, who thinks he’s off his rocker and plans to have him committed, is also an equally striking foil. The rest of the versatile cast, too, is solid and positively irresistible. There is Alex McCooeye as psychiatrist Lyman Sanderson, David Francis as head psychiatrist, William Chumley, who brings a sense of urgency to the proceedings, Moria Wylie, surely one of the city’s finest actors, is Betty Chumley, and Walter Massey is the beautifully spoken Judge Omar Gaffney. Other s in the cast are equally respectable, if not quite as strong. The play occasionally shows its age; there’s a workplace situation that borders on the edge of what today would be consider sexual harassment, but that’s nitpicking.
John Dinning’s set is, as always, an architectural wonder; James Lavoie’s period costumes are bang on. Incidentally, the play is also being revived this year at the Shaw Festival at Niagara – on- the Lake with Peter Kranz playing Dowd.