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a Comedy
by Mary Chase

COMPANY : The Underground Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta
ID# 4562

SHOWING : March 20, 2014 - March 29, 2014



Wrapping up its 44th and final season, The Underground Theatre presents the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy "Harvey" by Mary Chase, about a charming eccentric who claims a tall, invisible white rabbit as his best friend. Elwood P. Dowd is dapper, cheerful and kind to everyone he meets, but this rabbit can be embarrassing! Is Elwood crazy? His sister thinks so, and so does her daughter. But the folks at Chumley’s Rest, the esteemed psychiatric institute, have other ideas ...

Director Dante Santacroce
Judge Gaffney Lee Cook
Dr. Chumley Richard Dillon
Veta Louise Simmons Ann Mitchell
Betty Chumley Betsy Rivard
E.J. Lofgren David Spierman
Ethel Chauvenet Jackie Spierman
Mr. Wilson Allen Stone
Nurse Kelly Dana Taylor
Dr. Sanderson Daniel Van Heil
Myrtle Mae Kassi Williams
Elwood P. Dowd Bob Winstead
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


by playgoer
Saturday, March 29, 2014
Mary Chase’s "Harvey" is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. The characters can all be memorable, and the story mixes humor and sentiment into a pleasing whole. The success of any production of "Harvey" depends on how well the director and actors let the story come through. In the case of Underground Theatre’s production, the story is given a few roadblocks.

Blocking is a large part of the problem. The performing space is surrounded on three sides by audience, so any downstage action presents actors’ backs to large parts of the audience. Dante Santacroce’s blocking doesn’t vary actors’ positions enough to keep sightlines clear and to make sure actors’ faces are visible to the majority of the audience at least part of the time during crucial scenes. The clutter of bodies is particularly noticeable in the last scene of the play, when most of the cast are onstage at once.

Casting follows the age-old community theatre practice of putting strong performers in the leading roles and filling out the cast with less successful performers, letting all the actors determine their own reactions to the onstage actions and dialogue of the others. This gives a shapeless feel to the evening. There are several good supporting performances, but most would have benefited from more directorial input to clarify reactions. Even the locale of the show is left in question, with one local character having a New Yawk accent, another presumably local character having a pronounced Southern accent, and others with no discernible accent.

There were several line bobbles in the performance I saw, which hampered the onward flow of the show. There were also line jumbles, primarily caused by Richard Dillon, Jr. jumping cues as Dr. Chumley, with his hurried speech lacking distinct diction. The tug-of-war in pacing with leisurely Bob Winstead as Elwood P. Dowd added to the shapelessness of the whole.

There were also a couple of added "bits" that didn’t work for me. Elwood dialed six digits to reach Chumley’s Rest on the telephone (with "one more" heard from an audience member behind me), then dialed additional groups of numbers before talking, without depressing the hook switch in between to start over. Huh? This was followed by Elwood folding a piece of brown paper repeatedly, with no apparent purpose, until finally it was small enough to slip in his pocket. The twine that had bound the brown paper-wrapped parcel, on the other hand, had been obviously placed in a lower desk drawer of a piece of furniture that was disguised at the time as a table. Placing the twine in his pocket would have given automatic motivation for folding the paper. Without motivation, the paper folding was a pointless "bit." Moments like these make it seem that the actor was let loose in the role, with little directorial oversight.

Rick Hammett’s lighting is good, given the limited technical capabilities of the intimate space, although the effect of invisible Harvey walking into a room is too delayed to get the reaction it should. Live sound is terrific, with footsteps upstairs truly being experienced, Canned sound isn’t as successful, with phone cues not always stopping in true concert with actors’ actions of lifting the receiver.

Costumes, uncredited in the program, work very well for all characters. It seemed odd to me, though, that Elwood P. Dowd rarely removed his hat. With his ever-present hat and cigar indoors, it was hard to believe he would be considered gentlemanly in the time period of the play.

"Harvey" is the final production for Underground Theatre. As is too often the case, a company is folding with the departure of its longtime sole director. I wish "Harvey" were a better send-off, but audiences seem to be eating it up. You can’t go too far wrong with a classic comedy. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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