Seen on Broadway—Beginnings and Endings: The 2012-2013 Broadway season has commenced with a Roundabout revival of Harvey, at Studio 54, where Liza and Halston once boogied with invisible rabbits. Be that as it may this production is a return engagement for Mary Chase’s 1944 comedy, best known from its 1950 film version (starring James Stewart) and for having beaten The Glass Menagerie for the Pulitzer Prize. While Tennessee Williams’ play has been revived numerous times, however, this is only Harvey’s third appearance on Broadway, the last time in 1970 with Stewart and Helen Hayes.
“Appearance” is, however, a relative term when discussing Harvey, as he doesn’t appear in the play, though his presence does manifest itself from time to time and the very mention of his name gives everyone around him fits—everyone, that is, except the gentle tippler Elwood P. Dowd (Jim Parsons), who conjured his outsized rabbit friend following the death of his mother. Living at his largesse, but less than pleased to be sharing the family mansion with Elwood’s unconventional companion, his elder sister, Veta (Jessica Hecht), seeks to have him committed. David Rockwell has placed the sets on three turntables, which gracefully transform from the library of the home to the tastefully bureaucratic reception room of the sanitarium—and suggest a linkage between the two, a pair of repressed environments upended by Elwood’s gentle non-conformity.
Scott Ellis’ straightforward direction emphasizes smiles over subtext—Chase also has fun with the notion that Harvey may in fact be real—and outside of a few creaky passages the show delivers. Supporting Parsons and Hecht (in a role made famous by Josephine Hull in the original production and the film) are laugh getters including Carol Kane and Charles Kimbrough, who, as the increasingly maddened sanitarium director, must spend hours removing the contortions from his face following a performance. Playing a sympathetic doctor, Morgan Spector, so good as a bad guy in last season’s Russian Transport, was unrecognizable to me, and Mad Man Rich Sommer is in the cast as well, as a mean attendant.
Harvey’s return has been greeted with a classy production. The play is now a period piece, and Jane Greenwood has costumed the actors in what might have been high style for Denver in that era, with Elwood natty but somewhat less concerned about keeping up appearances. Providing handsome lighting (by necessity more institutional in the sanitarium, but there, too, warm) is Kenneth Posner, and sound designer Obadiah Eaves complements the tone of the show with a lightly whimsical score. Harvey plays through August 5.
There were no losers in the 2011-2012 season awards scrum except, maybe, me. I try to close each season with a final roundup but with ten Broadway shows opening pretty much all at once I didn’t make it to the finish line. (Which is not to say that I abandoned my duties; look for my interview with Jon Driscoll, the Drama Desk Award-winning video and projections designer of Ghost the Musical, in the June-July issue.)
But I should put in the good word for Daniel Ostling’s wonderful, era-straddling set for Clybourne Park; Brian Ronan’s exquisite sound design for Nice Work If You Can Get It; Mark Thompson’s delightful sets and costumes for One Man, Two Guvnors (which, besides James Corden’s award-winning performance, has terrific musical interludes by an onstage skiffle band, The Craze); Gareth Owen’s piercing sound design for End of the Rainbow, which has fine lighting by Christopher Akerlind; and John Lee Beatty’s sets for The Columnist, incisively lit by Kenneth Posner. And everything about The Lyons, my favorite show from last season.
Before bidding farewell, a word about the superbly integrated design of Tribes, which continues Off Broadway at the always stimulating Barrow Street Theatre. Nina Raine’s affecting, Drama Desk-winning play about a deaf man who breaks from his loving, messy family to learn sign language has been given a first-rate staging in the round by director David Cromer. This makes a small space even more intimate, as if we’re eavesdropping on the constantly arguing family members in Scott Pask’s believably lived-in living room set. (The actors, clad by Tristan Raines, seem to have shown up in their clothes.) Further placing us in the world of the play is Keith Parham’s homey, unglamorous lighting and the interplay between Jeff Sugg’s projections and Daniel Kluger’s sound design, which convincingly realize deafness. While the show loses its footing in the second act, adding too many complications to an already fraught situation, the design is sure-handed throughout. Tribes plays through September 2.