Allen Kretchsmar as Elwood P. Dowd.

Those with fond memories of the film version of Harvey, featuring Jimmy Stewart’s indelible performance as Elwood P. Dowd, may or may not have seen Mary Chase’s original stage version, dating from 1944—or at least not in a long time. If they find themselves in a reminiscing frame of mind, they might want to drop in at the Players Theatre to reacquaint themselves with Elwood and his invisible, tall pooka friend; it’s like taking a trip back to a simpler, gentler time.

In fact, at least in the first act of this production, Harvey seems almost too simple and gentle—too subdued. Director Linda MacCluggage and her cast might want to rev up the pacing and the energy level a bit, although there’s a balancing act between the physical comedy and the heart of the show you wouldn’t want to see destroyed.

Elwood is played here by Allen Kretschmar, who has the innocence and innate sweetness of the character down pat. Elwood would do anything for his beleaguered sister, Veta (Laurie Zimmerman, also turning in a nice job as a woman strained beyond her breaking point), who wants to be able to entertain friends at the home she and Elwood share with her daughter, Myrtle Mae (Alex Torres), without fearing that Elwood will bring along that big rabbit only he can see for the evening.

To that end, she considers depositing Elwood at Chumley’s Rest, a sanitarium run by the full-of-himself Dr. Chumley (John Forsyth) with the aid of a big bruiser attendant (Adam Garrison); a fellow physician, Dr. Sanderson, who’s less expert than he thinks he is (Joseph Mammina); and a nurse (Amanda Heisey, making her debut on the Players stage with assurance) who’s got eyes for Sanderson (in a relationship that doesn’t really feel believable here).

It’s still fun after all these years to see how Elwood’s all-embracing and almost childlike demeanor causes the medical professionals to go a little crazy themselves (especially when they make the mistake of thinking that Veta is the would-be patient), or how avid Myrtle Mae’s sexual curiosity is when her mother describes the trauma she faced at the hands of those professionals. If you let the mood and message of Harvey settle over you, you’ll end up feeling warmed by the enduring appeal of the play and what it has to say about the human condition.

Harvey continues through April 7; for tickets call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.

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