Updated Tuesday, 5/1 – The Nicolet Players are deep into rehearsals for a full-scale production of one of Broadway’s most beloved plays. Harvey, the Pulitzer-winning play by Mary Chase, is slated for seven performances in the Nicolet College Theatre, starting Friday, May 4.
Harvey opened on Broadway in 1944 at the height of World War II. It was an instant hit, running for five years and 1,775 performances. At any given time the play usually is in production somewhere around the country. In June, a new revival will open on Broadway. The 1950 movie, likewise a huge success, linked forever in audiences’ minds Jimmy Stewart’s powerful performance with the eccentric Elwood P. Dowd.
“I’ve asked the cast not to look at the movie,” said Nicolet Theatre Director Jim Nuttall. “We’re taking the script and making it our own. The production will be an entirely fresh experience for the audience.”
For several generations, Nuttall noted, stage productions of Harvey have delighted audiences of all ages. “It has all the elements of a screwball comedy,” he said, “with lovable, strong personalities that make up the story, and it has an interesting plot twist. There’s a cleverness in the writing that makes it an extremely funny play.”
Nuttall added that the Nicolet Players’ cast of 12 has clicked “exceedingly well as an ensemble during rehearsals. We’re ahead of the game in learning our roles. We’re now fine-tuning the quick-fire pacing of the play.”
The storyline features a six-foot three-inch rabbit named Harvey, visible only to gentle, affable Elwood, who lives with his sister Veta and niece Myrtle Mae. To the dismay of his social-climbing sister, Elwood introduces his rabbit friend to everyone he meets. In an effort to protect her daughter from family embarrassment, Veta tries to have her brother committed to a sanitarium. A comedy of errors follows. Veta gets committed instead and Elwood wanders off. Later, when Elwood shows up looking for his invisible friend, the doctors, staff and Veta herself come to view mild-mannered Elwood’s delusion as maybe not the worst thing in the world.
“Elwood P. Dowd just sees life a little differently,” said Dave Daniels, who has been cast in the lead role. “The challenge for me is to step fully into his fantasy life and see Harvey the way Elwood does. This giant rabbit is his companion. The communication between them often isn’t verbal. Sometimes, I’ll realize that Harvey is smiling, so I smile back at him – looking up, of course, because Harvey is a lot taller than me.”
Daniels is a veteran Nicolet Players actor who’s had roles in Romeo and Juliet,A Christmas Carol and other productions. His new role, he pointed out, requires him to pal around on stage with a six-foot invisible rabbit, which he calls an exercise in empathy.
“It’s about recognizing that we all have a little of Harvey in us,” he said. “Elwood is someone who lives with women who don’t understand him. For him, Harvey is a kind of idealized older brother, or father figure who listens and cares. In the play’s last line, as he escorts Harvey off-stage, Elwood says, ‘I’ve known for years what my family thinks of Harvey, but I’ve also wondered what Harvey thinks of my family.’ There’s a lot of wisdom in this play.”
For Daniels, the fun of rehearsing has been to witness how each of his fellow actors has learned and grown into his or her part. “That’s the great thing about Nicolet Players and the way in which Jim Nuttall directs,” he said. “We’re all citizen actors who have been given the chance to stretch ourselves.”
Also in the cast are Elizabeth Dickinsen, Casey Roesinger, Shannon Reinke, Lisa R. Johnson, Anna Schwartz, Kurt Krause, Josh Gustafson, Gary Liddle, Linda DeMill, Rich Uspel and Chris Nehlsen.
Performances are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, May 4 and 5, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, May 6, at 2 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 10, 11 and 12, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 13, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8 general and $6 for students and seniors.
Tickets may be purchased online at nicoletlive.com, or by calling the box office at (715) 365-4646.