Jim Parsons (Sheldon of “The Big Bang Theory”) is one of those rare fellows; he is universally likable. He’s so genial in “Harvey” in a limited run at Studio 54, that he conjures up comparisons to Jimmy Stewart, who played the same character, Elwood P. Dowd, in the 1950 movie.
When Christina Applegate played Charity Hope Valentine in “Sweet Charity” seven years ago on Broadway, how could Shirley MacLaine’s 1969 film performance not be mentioned? Whenever a younger actor steps into a role made famous by an established actor, that’s inevitable.
But the comparison between Parsons and Stewart runs deeper. With both men, there’s a sweetness and decency that seeps through. It’s impossible to not like them. OK, maybe it is possible, but really, if people dislike Parsons, do you want to be their friend? Parsons was equally terrific in last year’s revival of “The Normal Heart.”
This 1944 play earned Mary Chase a Pulitzer Prize and ran for 1,775 performances. It’s well written, with some great lines.
“Oh, Myrtle, you have so much to offer,” Veta says to her daughter. “I don’t care what anyone says.”
Myrtle Mae is a most unpleasant young woman, and as played by Tracee Chimo, she is even more so. Myrtle Mae is supposed to be annoying but it’s debatable as to whether she should be quite this grating.
Her mother, Veta Louise Simmons (Jessica Hecht, Broadway’s “A View From the Bridge” and TV’s “Breaking Bad”) is over-the-top and speaks in such a strange, vaguely European accent that it sometimes detracts from the show.
Still, Parsons, at the center of this comedy, is delightful. Dowd is the nicest guy, who happens to have an invisible buddy, Harvey, a 6’3 1/2″ rabbit. As Dowd, he is sincerely pleased to meet people, quickly extracting a card from his vest, telling his new friend to call him. He is without guile.
Dowd, who inherited the family home, likes to drink, play cards and meet new people, which is a most pleasant approach to life. He has one major quirk, though; he hangs out with his imaginary pal, Harvey. But during the play, a few incidents happen that make the audience think perhaps Harvey is not imaginary.
The crux of the plot is that Veta, egged on by Myrtle, tries to have Elwood committed to a sanitarium. As she’s trying to explain the situation to the psychiatrist, and admits that she, too, sometimes sees Harvey, the doctor mistakenly commits her. The rest of the play has everyone chasing Dowd, and Dowd never losing his good humor.
Carol Kane (Emmy winner for “Taxi”) has a terrific turn as the batty wife of the psychiatrist.
Playing it as if he stepped out of Bowery Boys movie is Rich Sommer, making his Broadway debut as Duane Wilson, the orderly at a sanitarium.
Uneven performances aside, Dowd’s completely optimistic approach to life makes everyone wish they had a very tall rabbit accompanying them through life.