×

Harvey

Jim Parsons aims to charm the pants off us by giving Elwood P. Dowd an air of sweet serenity, but the vacancy behind his bland facial expressions has a chilling effect.

With:
Myrtle Mae Simmons - Tracee Chimo
Veta Louise Simmons - Jessica Hecht
Elwood P. Dowd - Jim Parsons
Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet - Angela Paton
Ruth Kelly, R.N. - Holley Fain
Duane Wilson - Rich Sommer
Lyman Sanderson, M.D. - Morgan Spector
William R. Chumley, M.D. - Charles Kimbrough
Betty Chumley - Carol Kane
Judge Omar Gaffney - Larry Bryggman
E.J. Lofgren - Peter Benson

Comedy can be deadly. Just a few directorial misjudgments and uh-oh, sudden death: forced laughs, desperate thesps, and an aud growing surlier by the minute. Something like that has befallen the Roundabout’s revival of “Harvey,” Mary Chase’s 1944 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a lovable man (memorably played by James Stewart in the 1951 movie) whose best friend is a 6-foot-tall invisible rabbit. Jim Parsons aims to charm the pants off us by giving Elwood P. Dowd an air of sweet serenity. But the vacancy behind his bland facial expressions has a chilling effect.

Roundabout always likes to look good, so the design of Scott Ellis’ production is impeccable — just as good as, and maybe better than, the period authenticity he achieved in the revival of “Twelve Angry Men.”

David Rockwell’s set of the book-lined drawing room of an elegant Victorian mansion conveys exactly the sense of financial security and social solidity you’d expect to find in the home of a well-off family living in Denver, Colo., in 1944. And while Jane Greenwood’s costumes are visually witty (what hats!), the detail work gives them validity.

Contemporary attention spans being what they are, it’s hard to fault the production for the feeling that the play’s first scene goes on forever. But exposition wasn’t a dirty word back in the playwright’s more leisurely day, and we really need to know that Elwood (Jim Parsons), his late mother’s sole heir and the master of this grand house, is “the biggest screwball in town.”

Elwood’s best friend is an imaginary rabbit named Harvey, and his insistence on introducing his “friend” to everyone in town has made social pariahs of his social-climbing sister, Veta (Jessica Hecht, not bad but biding her time until her triumphant turn in the second act), and Veta’s nasty daughter, Myrtle Mae (Tracee Chimo, so good in “Bachelorette” but way, way over the top here).

The first scene, set in the sanitarium where Veta goes to have Elwood committed, also gets off to a slow start, lumbered by more drawn-out exposition and a stiff perf from Morgan Spector as the stuffy psychiatrist who admits them. But the farce finally kicks in when Veta goes to pieces trying to explain the strain she’s been under (a brilliant breakdown from Hecht) and is locked up as a loony. Parsons also makes good in this scene by executing some deft comic maneuvers after Elwood is set loose and allowed to roam the sanitarium with Harvey.

The nuttier the farce becomes, in fact, the better this show is.

Charles Kimbrough is insanely funny as the head of the psychiatric clinic who goes chasing after his runaway ward and is won over by Harvey. As the doctor’s downhearted wife, Carol Kane steals the scene in which Elwood charms her with his kindness and beautiful manners. And Angela Paton brightens the first act as a wealthy society matron who does a classic double-take when Elwood introduces her to his imaginary friend.

Wherever they happened to have wandered in terms of performance styles, the company pulls itself together in the final scene, when scribe Chase quits being facetious and makes her serious point that “perfectly normal human beings” are, in fact, nasty people — and that however eccentric Elwood may seem to the “normal” people in the world, he’s a lot happier than they are.

Cue the audience cheers.

Popular on Variety

Harvey

Studio 54; 1,002 seats; $140 top

Production: A Roundabout Theater Company production of a play in two acts by Mary Chase. Directed by Scott Ellis.

Creative: Sets, David Rockwell; costumes, Jane Greenwood; lighting, Kenneth Posner; original music & sound, Obadiah Eaves; hair & wigs, Tom Watson; production stage manager, Arthur Gaffin. Opened June 14, 2012. Reviewed June 13. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Myrtle Mae Simmons - Tracee Chimo
Veta Louise Simmons - Jessica Hecht
Elwood P. Dowd - Jim Parsons
Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet - Angela Paton
Ruth Kelly, R.N. - Holley Fain
Duane Wilson - Rich Sommer
Lyman Sanderson, M.D. - Morgan Spector
William R. Chumley, M.D. - Charles Kimbrough
Betty Chumley - Carol Kane
Judge Omar Gaffney - Larry Bryggman
E.J. Lofgren - Peter Benson

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content