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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Harvey

Last night was opening night for the Parker Arts Council production of "Harvey," by Mary Chase. It's a wonderful play, one of my favorites. I was fortunate enough to land the part of Elwood P. Dowd. The rest of the cast is amazing:

Mark Como, director and cab driver, has an eye for great bits of physical humor. And he has assembled a fabulous team.

Sarah Como, Assistant Director, is not only an efficient stage manager, she also put her finger on something I'd never seen in any production of Harvey. Elwood's first appearance is when he says, "Excuse me a moment. I have to answer the phone." But Sarah is the only one to spot the clear stage directions: the phone doesn't ring until after Elwood says he'll answer it. The point is that Harvey (who is in constant conversation with Elwood) gets "advance notice." A brilliant insight.

Shelley Cullen as Nurse Kelley. A sassier nurse you will not find, with a wonderful smile. She gives me a smooch, too.

Mary Ann Evans as Ethel Chauvenet. Mary Ann absolutely nails the slightly off-kilter "Aunt Ethel," with spot-on high couture costuming and an alternating deadpan comedy and looks of mounting horror.

Mary Beth Gudewicz as Myrtle Mae Simmons. Hard to believe that we used to name people "Myrtle." Mary Beth is an always elegant presence, and her Myrtle Mae as the scheming and slightly date-desperate young woman is hilarious.

Theresa Lewis as Veta Louise Simmons. Theresa is the star of the show, carrying most of the dialog, and describing the essential story arc. Being in plays is weird in this way: I wind up having genuine feelings about fictitious relationships. Theresa now seems like a beloved sibling to me. Elwood puts his relationship with his sister before everything else, and ultimately, that trust is justified. Veta gets big laughs, and works hard to deserve them.

Rick Reid as Mr. Wilson. Rick is great, alternately tough guy and leering suitor, with a genuine admiration for another character -- Dr. Chumley.

Clayton Russel as Dr. Chumley. Even the cast is divided about this. I think he's the villain of the piece, the guy who has a formula to kill you spiritually. But as villains go, he's pretty fun to watch, especially when he reveals his deepest fantasy -- involving Akron.

Marilyn Spittler as Betty Chumley. Marilyn has an utterly engaging, slightly ditzy character that you just can't help but like. Endearing.

Doug "the Doug" Tisdale is our Dr. Sanderson. I was in another play with Doug, and once again find him a consistently sharp and generous actor, who enjoys himself so much on the stage it's all he can do not to burst out laughing.

Doug Tisdale Sr. as Judge Gaffney. Our highest energy performer, the Judge frames the issues in surprising ways. A joy to watch.

Elwood has lots of great lines that really do seem to be about presence, about awareness, about kindness and courtesy. Rick described Elwood as a bodhisattva -- a nearly enlightened being who hangs around to help others attain enlightenment. Doug Sr. made a case that Elwood has a kind of Christ-like aspect.

I've gone through several takes on the character. First, I thought Elwood was a sage. Then, I thought he was more of a gentle and equable drunk. Finally, I concluded that he was enchanted -- but was alert enough to the unseen even before his bewitchment to genuinely enjoy his enchantment. Or maybe he's the one who enchanted Harvey.

I like Elwood better than almost any character in fiction. And I have the deepest affection for my fellow cast members, who are adorable and fascinating.

We have three more shows: tonight, Saturday, February 7, 2009, and next Friday and Saturday. All shows are at 7 p.m. at the Parker Mainstreet Center 19650 E. Mainstreet, Parker, CO, 80138. Tickets are $15, with (I think) breaks for seniors and students.

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