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Civic Theatre's "Harvey" proved a whimsical production for adults

Did you see Harvey? Apparently, no one, including the audience, could either. This six-foot, three-and-one-half-inch tall invisible rabbit only revealed himself to an amiable man named Mr. Elwood P. Dowd in this American classic comedy.
Mr. Dowd (Steven. J. Anderson) puts up a picture of himself and Harvey

Mr. Dowd (Steven. J. Anderson) puts up a picture of himself and Harvey /STUDIO3TWENTY

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What: a whimsical theatrical play

Where: Grand Rapids Civic Theatre

30 N. Division Ave.

Grand Rapids, MI, 49503

When: Jan 13 through 29.


Visit the Civic Theatre's website for more information, including parking and upcoming shows.


A few actors in costume. From left: Dr. Sanderson (Joe Worth), Mr. Dowd (Steven J. Anderson) and Nurse Kelly (Rebekah Hughes)

A few actors in costume. From left: Dr. Sanderson (Joe Worth), Mr. Dowd (Steven J. Anderson) and Nurse Kelly (Rebekah Hughes) /STUDIO3TWENTY

The play

The play "Harvey" was showing for the first time at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre through January 29. “Harvey” won a 1945 Pulitzer Prize award for Drama and was made into a movie in 1950 starring James Stewart. In 1970, “Harvey” had a Broadway revival. Soon, “Harvey” will enjoy a second Broadway revival this year in May.

In this production, the sweet but “psychopathic” Elwood P. Dowd (Steven J. Anderson) got himself into a few humorous troubles because he tried to introduce his best friend Harvey to practically everyone he met.

Mr. Dowd’s sister, Veta Simmons (Nancy Wagner), fed up with Harvey, tried to have Mr. Dowd seen by a psychiatrist, but this doctor mistook her for the psychopath she had come to admit to his care, and treated her instead while he let Mr. Dowd loose. When the psychiatrist, Dr. Sanderson (Joe Worth), realized his mistake, he went into a flurry to track down the original patient. When Mr. Dowd finally showed up at the doorstep, a twist of fate made Veta Simmons question if she wanted her brother to really be like the rest of the everyday “normal” people.

Before I arrived, I half expected to see a children’s play, but was delighted to find a play enjoyable by adults as well. “Harvey” was cute, funny and whimsical. If not for a few kissing scenes and sexual references, this production is quite clean and admirable.

The cast

The local cast made this an enjoyable play to watch as they each got into their characters. My favorite part of Nancy Wagner’s performance occurred when she, as the shrill and apprehensive Vita Simmons, together with psychiatrist Dr. William Chumley (Rob Thomasma), tried to lure Mr. Dowd to return home safely so that they might cure him of ever seeing Harvey again. Wagner conveyed the anxiety of a worried sibling as she tried to calm her perturbed voice while rocking back and forth while on the telephone, but her character was unsuccessful in luring Mr. Dowd home at that time.

This is Wagner’s fourth appearance at the Civic Theatre. Some may remember her in last year’s “Hello Dolly” as the lead role. She also teaches theatre and has played various theatrical roles in Minneapolis, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as on TV in Home Improvement with Tim Allen and in Carol & Company with Carol Burnett.

Just as overanxious was Dr. Sanderson, played by Joe Worth. He was very articulate: I could hear him from the very back row in the balcony. Worth has participated in a handful of local plays, including a few productions for the Civic Theatre, the most recent one being “Diary of Anne Frank” in January of last year.

Set, stage, lights and sound

Along with the fine work of the cast, I was also impressed by the technical aspects of the show. The set, costumes, and props evoked the 1940s era in which the play was first written by Mary Chase. The two realistic sets were able to transition quickly as they revolved automatically on three circles in the floor. The set lamps also came up and down automatically, adding a professional touch.

The sound quality was fine, and the actors projected well. The one thing that disturbed me was a loud thump from the speaker, meant to be the sound of actors slamming doors. The timing didn’t work that well, so I didn’t understand this at first, and it seemed out of place. Overall, however, the production staff did a marvelous job of making the play professional.

A moral in the story

If there was a lesson in “Harvey,” it might have been that we should all give into our fantasies every once in a while in order to be kinder, more courteous, more like Mr. Dowd. I very much enjoyed watching “Harvey,” and I will definitely see future productions of the Civic Theatre.


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