(HILLSBOROUGH, NJ) -- It’s not often that the title character in a Pulitzer Prize-winning play is neither seen nor heard. In the case of Mary Chase’s classic comedy, Harvey, it’s a definite plus! The production opens on October 22 at the Somerset Valley Players, Hillsborough’s nonprofit community theatre, and runs weekends through November 7.
The comedy, which has had many revivals since it first opened on Broadway in 1945, is about a man, Elwood P. Dowd, who insists his best friend is a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. The reactions of his concerned family and beleaguered psychiatrists result in sidesplitting comedy and a wise moral to the story.
SVP’s production also has great personal meaning for the director, Richard P. Butler. “During my senior year in high school (a long time ago) I played Elwood in my high school production,” recalls Butler. “I fell in love with the play, and it has always stayed with me. I’ve been hoping to direct it one day and am grateful to SVP for the opportunity.”
Remembering his experience as a cast member of the show, Butler saw to it that the SVP cast had a point of reference for the imaginary rabbit by working with a talented young six-foot-tall actor, Asher Lindsey, who “stood in” for Harvey during rehearsals. “Having Asher really helped to help create the illusion – especially for Mike Johnson, the actor playing Elwood -- that Harvey is real,” Butler explains.
“There is also a personal connection to Harvey for two cast members,” states Roberta Steve, producer. “Susan Schwirk, who plays society maven Mrs. Eugene Chauvenet Senior, appeared in an SVP production of the comedy over 35 years ago, before the theatre moved to its permanent residence in Hillsborough. She played the role of Elwood P. Dowd’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons in that past production,” adds Steve.
“Mary-Kate Bozinta, who plays cab driver E. F. Lofgren, has a family connection to the show. Her father played the role of psychiatrist William Chumley in an SVP production in the mid 1990s,” continues Steve. “Both actresses have great nostalgia for those prior productions and want new audiences to love the show as much as they do.”
“Harvey is a love letter to audiences, and the human race in general,” maintains Butler. “The playwright’s affection for her characters – even the stereotypically unsympathetic ones - radiates a warmth that underscores the funny situation very effectively.”
“Even though the show is over 75 years old, its wisdom is still relevant,” Steve concludes. “Elwood and Harvey experience every moment in life as special, and more importantly, they connect with all of the people they meet. As Elwood himself says ‘a man can never have too many friends.’ In a world where we isolate in social media bubbles and document life instead of living it, we all still have a lot to learn from Elwood P. Dowd and his friend, Harvey.”
Produced by Steve and stage managed by Shannen Rivers, Harvey will be on stage at the Somerset Valley Players theater on 689 Amwell Road (Route 514) in Hillsborough beginning Friday, October 22, through Sunday, November 7. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8:00pm; Sunday matinees start at 2:00pm. The theater is air conditioned, barrier free and wheelchair accessible.
For tickets and show times go to www.svptheatre.org. Tickets are $20/adult and $18/student & senior. Masks are required inside the building.
Photo by Todd Bennington