A fantastic review of HARVEY from The Star Group – don’t miss this!

PAUL GNADT

keenestar@thestargroup.com

Would you think it unusual to be walking down a street in town and a 6-foot rabbit, who is leaning against a lamp post, calls you by name?

Elwood P. Dowd doesn’t.

“Why, in a small town, everybody knows your name,” Dowd says.

That’s how Dowd sees it, but no one else views it that way because they can’t see the rabbit, named Harvey, who becomes Dowd’s best friend and constant companion in the warm-hearted, yet often zany and hilarious, comedy that is the current production of the Plaza Theatre Company at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

Although “Harvey,” from Mary Chase’s 1944 Pulitzer Prize-winning play — and a 1950 movie starring Jimmie Stewart — has withstood the test of time and the story line is well-known, PTC still manages to put its unique stamp on the production.

As is becoming expected of the award-winning PTC troupe, set design is as clever as the acting is outstanding.

PTC cofounders JaceSon Barrus and G. Aaron Siler avoid set changes by having Dowd’s socialite home at one end of the stage and the reception area at Chumley’s Rest, a sanitarium, at the other end. It’s a perfect fit for Plaza’s 160-seat theater-in-the-round and keeps the audience close to the action regardless of where you are seated.

The sets are spartan but effective. A desk with two phones, a filing cabinet and one chair comprise the doctor’s office. Two chairs and a hat rack complete the waiting room.

It works.

It works because of the excellent performance of Milette Siler as Myrtle Mae Simmons, Dowd’s unmarried niece who is trying to find a husband but is shunned by potential suitors when they meet Dowd and he introduces them to the invisible Harvey.

And it works because of the excellent performances of Joshua’s Luke Hunt as Dr. Lyman Sanderson and Mansfield’s Jamie Long as Dr. William H. Chumley, the head of Chumley’s Rest.

Hunt plays Sanderson with just the right arrogance of a soap opera doctor who thinks more of himself than he does the verbal affections directed his way by Rachel Benham’s nurse Ruth Kelly.

Long is perfectly cast as Chumley, the world-renowned psychiatrist whose dysfunctional sanitarium allows orderly Wilson, played by JaceSon Barrus (double cast with Michael Hatch in the production I attended) to run roughshod over the patients.

But it really works because of the outstanding performances of Jay Cornils as Dowd and Soni Barrus as Veta Louise Simmons, Dowd’s sister who wants to put him in the sanitarium so she can get her hands on the family estate, of which he is the executor.

In some performances, Katy Wood plays Veta.

Fed up with Dowd’s drinking — he’s a happy, harmless, educated, polite and polished bar hop — Vera decides to commit her brother to a sanatorium.

The fact that Elwood is a frequent elbow bender explains to the townsfolk and his family why he sees, talks to and is always accompanied by Harvey.

Veta uses Harvey as the reason to send Elwood to the sanitarium. But, things backfire when, during the admissions process, she admits that she also has seen the rabbit and is committed instead of her brother.

That’s when the fun starts and the timing of the actors is crucial as people enter and exit the scenes at just the right time to keep the laughs rolling along.

Cornils, more associated with the Carnegie Players and his appearances as Bob Ewell in the recent production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and as Clarence Odbody in December’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” brings a stylish self-confidence to the articulate Elwood, who says wryly that, “I wrestled with reality for 40 years and I am happy to state that I won out over it.”

Cornils is always well-prepared and his timing and delivery seems to elevate those around him.

In real life Soni Barrus is the mother of JaceSon Barrus, and we’re introduced to Jodie Barrus, JaceSon’s dad, who plays Judge Omar Gaffney, who’s caught in the middle of the struggle to keep peace in the Simmons family.

The always over-the-top Trich Zaitoon is a hoot as Ethel Chauvenet, a socialite Veta is trying to impress.

This is a good one for the whole family, with a message that all of us have dreams and, perhaps, some imaginary friends are better than the people who say they are our friends, but aren’t.

With costumes designed by PTC intern Ashlie Christenson, lighting by Cameron Barrus, sound by G. Aaron Siler, and properties by Milette Siler, and directed by G. Aaron Siler — who makes a brief but important appearance as a cab driver — “Harvey” is presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays through Saturday, May 14, at the Plaza Theatre, 111. S. Main St. in Cleburne.

Tickets — $15 for adults, $13 for seniors age 65 plus, and high school and college students, and $12 for children age 12 and younger — are on sale at the Plaza box office or by calling the PTC at 817-202-0600.

Tickets are going fast, so hop to it.

__________________________________________________________

Only 2 more weekends to catch HARVEY before he’s gone y’all. Give us a call to reserve today.

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