Giving Tree hits its stride with ‘Harvey’


Giving Tree Theater — through Feb. 14

Left to right: David Morton as Elwood, Traci Rezabek as Betty; photo by Zoey Akers
Left to right: David Morton as Elwood, Traci Rezabek as Betty; photo by Zoey Akers

Giving Tree Theater has launched their official second season with the opening night performance of Harvey, written in 1944 by Mary Chase and directed by the Corridor’s own Demetrios Hadjis.

Set in the 1940’s, Harvey tells the story of … wait for it … a six foot tall rabbit that can only be seen by the main character, Elwood P. Dowd (David Morton). For his part, Elwood is completely unconcerned by the entire situation, but his socialite sister Veta Louise (Dyanna Dawn Davidson) fears the social stigma that comes with his “madness,” and too-clever niece Myrtle Mae (Emma Drtina) seeks to lock both of them away and sell their family home.

Harvey is a little gem of a play, written in a very different time than the one we live in. As a script, it’s funny, clever, charming even in its anachronism — more than one of the performers lovingly apologize in their program bios for the, shall we say, outmoded sensibilities of the characters they play. But the text holds up, largely due to the comedic timing of the actors.

Left to right: Emma Drtina as Myrtle Mae, Dyanna Dawn Davidson as Veta, Brett Engmark as the Judge; photo by Zoey Akers

First off, David Morton is a brilliant Elwood. Many actors might choose to emulate the famous Jimmy Stewart film character, but Morton crafts the charm, nonchalance, and gentleness of Elwood P. Dowd into a full-on portrait that is all his own — not an impression, but a personal and effortless masterpiece. I am hard pressed to think of a more original, more genuine, or more touching and believable Corridor performance in recent memory.

Davidson and Drtina are also very enjoyable as a mother-daughter duo, both resolved to remove Elwood, but for very different reasons. These two are wonderfully cast — funny, earthy, and their collaborated mannerisms, vocal tonality and clever timing all combine to make such a beautiful mother-daughter team that, as the audience, we love them even when they are being selfish and difficult.

Jessica Link (as Nurse Kelly) provides a nuanced and gifted performance. Both flirtatious and self-effacing, Link gives us a rounded, confusing, confused character who clings tragically to Elwood and Dr. Sanderson (Richie Akers) both, desperately — and still, somehow, we root for her.

The cast is rounded out by a number of characters, perhaps Giving Tree’s largest cast to date. Traci Rezabek (Betty Chumley) is deliciously unlikeable — the socialite advancing herself through her well-meaning husband; Kristin Poling (Miss Johnson), Jill Law (Ethel Chauveney), Steve Worthington (Duane Wilson), Brett Engmark (Judge Gaffney) and D. Allan Boettger as Dr. William R. Chumley fill the stage.

Left to right: Richie Akers as Dr. Sanderson, Jessica Link as Kelly, David Morton as Elwood
Left to right: Richie Akers as Dr. Sanderson, Jessica Link as Kelly, David Morton as Elwood; photo by Zoey Akers

Worthington makes the most of his flirtation with Drtina; his affection is palpable, which echoes and contrasts nicely with his hard-nosed hospital-minded character. Engmark is remarkable with his nuanced performance. Both are comical without loss of substance.

Boettger provided a great performance in a part he was ill-cast for. By this, I mean he is too young-seeming for the role, especially compared to the others in the cast. There was no flaw in his performance — only that he didn’t mesh well in the world that director Hadjis had so wonderfully otherwise created.

The set (designed by david e. hein, who also Assistant Directed and played the role of the Cab Driver) was well thought through, and, while transitions between the “Dowd Home” and the “Hospital” were too long, it was clear that the clever logic in the layout was meant to smooth that large transition. There was a certain joy in seeing how the crew and designer made that change come to have real breath, and both locations had more depth, planning and realism than previous Giving Tree sets I have seen.

What I absolutely loved about the lighting design, by “Lighting Pooka” Mary Sullivan, is the best thing about lighting: I didn’t think about it once. It did not cross my mind. The lighting was perfect: real in the realistic scenes, a little off in the rare moment we “see” Harvey cross the room, completely non-distracting because this production does a very hard thing: It combines reality with fantasy.

I’m going to say this plain: See Harvey. It’s fun and loving, funny and layered. It’s Giving Tree’s best production to date. It’s a touching, loving show. It’s a great date night, great theater night. It isn’t perfect, but it is perfectly lovely.

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Harvey runs through Valentine’s Day (Did I mention good Date Play?). Tickets are available through Giving Tree’s website.

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