With heart and hilarity, ‘Harvey’ is a crowd-pleaser at Everyman

This is a show designed to provoke laughter — the performers have impeccable delivery, fascinating physicality, and brilliantly coordinated comic timing.

Have you seen Harvey? Chances are, you haven’t seen it this good. At Everyman Theatre, Director Jackson Gay envisions an overblown semi-reality that removes the bitterness and judgmentalism often found in productions of this beloved play. Each character is idiosyncratic, though none nearly as kind as the “peculiar” Mr. Dowd. The lushness of the costumes, the precise comedic timing of the cast, and the elegance of the set combine to remove the audience from everyday ills for a couple of hours, to restore our souls with love and laughter.

Written by Denver-native journalist-turned-playwright Mary Chase in 1944, Harvey earned Chase a Pulitzer Prize in 1945. Harvey contains elements of classic farce — high society versus common people, mistaken identities, and lots of doors for popping in and out of scenes. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of farce. In addition, Harvey considers mental illness issues we’re addressing recently. Where’s the line between quirky and dangerous? Who decides what constitutes mental illness? What are appropriate levels of intervention? Is there a safe amount of family toxicity?

Bruce Randolph Nelson as Elwood P. Dowd in ‘Harvey.’ Photo by Kiirstn Pagan.

But never mind that heavy stuff just now. This is a show designed to amuse, distract, and provoke laughter, which it does. The resident company performers and additional cast members at Everyman have impeccable delivery, fascinating physicality, and brilliantly coordinated comic timing, all of which are a delight to observe. Bruce Randolph Nelson as our protagonist Elwood P. Dowd creates such a courtly, considerate gentleman that we can imagine forgiving him nearly anything. He’s affable and charming, and most of us would take him home in a heartbeat. As his sister Veta Simmons, however, Megan Anderson displays such a pastiche of societal pride, maternal ambition, and sibling frustration that we — especially we women “of a certain age” — completely sympathize with her as well. Her disintegration from understandably irritated to overwrought and raving is magnificent and forges an odd bridge between “sane” and “not sane,” leading us to question the definition of sanity.

Myrtle May Simmons, Veta’s daughter, a young ingenue trying to make connections in society, performed by Hannah Kelly, is energetic and hopeful, with snap, sass, and excellent body language. The mother-daughter pair have brilliant chemistry and their opening scene is hilarious, even more so when Deborah Hazlett as Aunt Ethel Chauvenet joins them. Morgan Danielle Day as Nurse Kelly is lovely and adopts a fresh-faced wistfulness akin to Ellen Green’s Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, which is both appropriate and very funny.

As Dr. Chumley and Judge Gaffney, Paul Morella and David Bishins convey an unspoken backstory of being long-time rivals from prep school to the golf club. Their between-the-lines posturing is familiarly amusing. In Act II, Chumley’s “Akron” soliloquy assumes a ridiculously misogynistic air, without changing a word of the script. Alexander Kafarakis plays orderly Duane Wilson as pugnacious, with a limited worldview but many more comic opportunities. As Mrs. Chumley, Beth Hylton is perky and darling, garnering well-deserved laughs denied to her movie counterpart. Kyle Prue, as deus-ex-machina cabbie E.J. Lofgren, is the perfect combination of brashness and wry humor. In fact, the sole “straight” character is Dr. Sanderson, played by Grant Emerson Harvey with earnest obtuseness and a little bit of lovelorn pathos. He’s an excellent foil with a subtle character journey paralleling that of Veta Simmons.

Clockwise from top left: Beth Hylton and Bruce Randolph Nelson; Hannah Kelly, Megan Anderson, and David Bishins; Deborah Hazlett and Bruce Randolph Nelson; Alex Kafarakis and Paul Morillo in ‘Harvey.’ Photo by Kiirstn Pagan.

Everyman resident Set Designer Daniel Ettinger and Assistant Set Designer Emily Lotz have done a splendid job, imbuing the set with flair, panache, and opulence. The Dowd home is lovingly dressed, including items I recognize from the homes of each of my grandmothers. Chumley’s Rest includes a wartime poster extolling the use of handkerchiefs.

Though the stage is unable to take its own bow at the end, the smooth scene changes are long enough and done in full view for us to appreciate in real-time. The lighting outside the window of the facility, which shows a hint of the lush garden so prized by Dr. Chumley, is a lovely decorative touch — hat tip to Lighting Designer Aja Jackson. The characters are sumptuously attired — Costume Designer David Burdick delivers 1940s-era fashions with extra oomph. The hats are fantastic, particularly a certain concoction of yellow roses and net.

What’s really unusual about this production is that each character is over the top and that every single line is played for laughs. Generally, a script has setup lines and punchlines, and it’s fairly obvious which is which. Mary Chase’s script, however, proves itself versatile enough that when Director Jackson Gay plays every single line for laughs, when paired with the cast’s deft delivery, it works. It works so well that my companion insists this production is better than the 1950 movie that immortalized the only one of Mary Chase’s many plays to have survived into the modern age. For one thing, it’s in color.

Everyman Theatre is located in one of the Arts Neighborhoods of downtown Baltimore City, pretty close to the newly renovated Lexington Market. Parking is available at the garage across the street from the theater, as well as other nearby garages, and, occasionally, street parking. Inside, Vinny’s bar offers pre-show or intermission show-themed drinks — which you can pre-order if you wish — as well as wine by the glass or the bottle, and a few little snacks. Drinks with lids are permitted in the theater, but food is not.

Whether you’re seeing shows on your own or with loved ones, I recommend you opt for a genteel, uproarious evening at Everyman to see Harvey for yourself. It’s an extraordinarily well-done production with heart, hilarity, and hope.

Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Harvey plays through May 21, 2023, at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette St., Baltimore, MD. Purchase tickets ($29–$79, depending on show date and seating choice) online or contact the box office by phone at 410-752-2208 (Monday through Friday, 10 AM – 4 PM; Saturday, 12 PM – 4 PM) or email [email protected].

Accessibility: Everyman emphasizes their commitment to accessibility for all, including those with economic challenges. There are eight seats available for each performance at Pay What You Choose prices.

The cast and creative credits are online here.

COVID Safety: Masks are encouraged, though not required. Everyman’s complete health and safety guide is here.


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