reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Improbable Fiction Theatre Company’s production of Harvey by Mary Chase is the latest American classic to be performed at Carmel’s very busy The Cat Theatre. Well directed by Dana Lesh, the show revisits one of theatre’s favorite characters, Elwood P. Dowd – famously rendered by James Stewart in the 1950 film adaptation of Ms. Chase’s 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning play.

Let me start by saying that Harvey is a beautiful old play – gently comic, slightly philosophical, never edgy or terse. The Elwood character portrays someone we all wish we could know, or even perhaps be at times! Most of the play’s other roles reflect us audience members – people who may be caught up in the world’s endless swirl, whether professional or social, or perhaps endeavoring to attain what one cannot attain. Elwood prefers the pleasant approach to life – collecting friends and congenial experiences. Several times in the course of the script he is asked by someone “Can I get you anything?”, and he invariably replies: “What did you have in mind?” – such a beatific answer. And let us not forget the pooka, Harvey – the invisible rabbit who reveals that anything is possible.

Elwood P. Dowd (Daniel Shock) meets with Dr. Sanderson (Matt Hartzburg) in a scene from Improbable Fiction Theatre’s production of “Harvey”.

Daniel Shock is a wonderful choice for the Elwood part, he makes the man a cheerfully amiable gent, squarely capturing what I can presume was Ms. Chase’s intent. Shock’s timing and delivery are perfect for the softly tender humor Elwood conveys, and his mannerisms are spot-on. For the most part, he is able to create his own version of Dowd, apart from the iconic film depiction. I did sense a time or two where I feel Shock slipped into a Stewartian cadence or vocal quality, but in any case – he stays far from being a parody in his choices.

(from front-left) Myrtle Mae (Becca Bartley), Veta Louise (Diann Ryan) and (back) Dr. Chumley (Scott Prill) in a scene from Improbable Fiction Theatre’s production of “Harvey”.

There are many other fine performances, as well. Diann Ryan is splendid as Dowd’s social climbing sister, Veta Louise. Ms. Ryan continues her status as one of our finest area comic actresses with her precisely ranged portrayal. Becca Bartley, is a delight as Veta’s persistent daughter, Myrtle Mae and she matches Ms. Ryan step for step in their scenes together. Scott Prill expertly shows a wide span of emotional conditions in his full portrayal of the harried sanitarium director, Dr. Chumley. Caity Withers and Mark Hartzburg make the most of their characters’ strange love relationship as they face off as Nurse Kelly and Dr. Sanderson. And Josh Gibson plays the put-upon orderly Duane Wilson with obvious relish.

Elwood P. Dowd (Daniel Shock) has a word with Nurse Kelly (Caity Withers) in a scene from Improbable Fiction Theatre’s production of “Harvey”.

Though uneven at times, the entire proceeding is a good example of what a large ensemble can do with prized material. Characters flit in and out and are never far from the humorous plot-line. A certain energy drop occurred in the final scene – usually that happens due to the rehearsal schedule spending more time on the early scenes than on the later ones – but the show as a whole is still very pleasing and, as full as it is with great performances, it was well appreciated by the audience.

Harvey runs through May 26th . The CAT Theatre is located at 254 Veteran’s Way (formerly 254 1st Ave SW) in Carmel. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website at https://www.iftheatrecompany.org/where-to-see-us/ or buying them at the door.

  • – photos by Becca Bartley and 4th Wall Players