By Hannah Cass
Southern Utah is beginning to become a lot more interesting, especially if you’re fond of the performing arts, as evidenced by Stage Door’s newest show, Harvey. With quite a close-knit and extremely talented theatre following here, our small towns are a nice little hub for those who act, and more recently famous faces and names have been popping up here and there. Famous, like, television famous. Broadway famous. You-saw-them-on-Netflix-the-other-day famous. How about this one, Millenials: Remember that “Diabeetus” guy? The commercial that became a meme? Well, that’s the one and only Wilford Brimley, and he stars as Elwood P. Dowd in Mary Chase’s Harvey, presented by The Stage Door at The Electric Theater. Pretty cool, right? What’s just as impressive is the fact that Broadway director Thomas G. Waites directed it.
So, what exactly is Harvey? Why should you see it? If by chance you’re unfamiliar with it, take a seat ‘cause this one’s a classic, my friend. Harvey first premiered in 1944 and takes place in the same time-frame, with the main scene locations being the library of the old Dowd mansion, and the reception room at Chumley’s Rest, a sanitarium. Elwood P. is a charming older man, around 63, who enjoys anyone’s company and certainly isn’t a stranger to every bar in town. However, there’s one thing about him that’s a tad peculiar: His best friend is an invisible, 6-foot-tall white rabbit named Harvey. Harvey doesn’t seem to charm people the way Elwood does, especially Elwood’s sister Veta and niece Myrtle Mae, who can’t stand “living” with Harvey at their shared estate. Being the sophisticated socialites they are, they’re ashamed of their relatives’ imaginary friend and can’t bear to face the friends that have been introduced to him. As a last resort, Veta decides to have her brother committed to the local sanitarium, but winds up being the one escorted to a safe room instead. Once the mistake is realized, the hilarious and heartfelt search for the man and his pooka begins.
I love everything about this show, and I love it immensely more now that I’ve had the opportunity to see it in person with such a wonderful and talented cast and crew behind it. I’m unsure my comments will really do it all justice; however, I’m determined to convey the impressiveness of this particular production to you all. I’ll begin with what I first noticed; the set. Designed by John Eves (who’s a pretty big deal in the set design world and film), the mansion setting features a gorgeous yet pompous painting of the late Mrs. Dowd hanging above a lovely fireplace. Glass doors, an ancient telephone and vintage books caught my eye, in particular, and I pondered the careful consideration and attention to detail that was placed into it. The same went for the sanitarium lobby, with the psychology certifications hanging on the wall and the interesting table clock at the top of the bookshelf as well as the textbooks.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been checking out the hair, makeup, and costumes for most of the duration of the show. I longed to be on that stage just to have Crystal Jones’ (Ruth Kelly) hair and entire look; it was perfect 40’s bouncy Rita Hayworth curls and it was stunning. Laci Fay styled the hair and wigs for this show and even though I’ve never met her, I’d certainly like to. I can say the same for Aimee Sanders, the makeup artist. Paint me like one of your Harvey girls, Aimee, they are all so gorgeous. I may be a tad biased due to the fact that I have a preference for vintage styles and clothing, but even so, I fell in love with the costumes by Mindy Batt. Fancy hats, fur coats, silk gloves, the ladies’ gowns and the men’s suits were all so delightful. I personally believe we should strive to bring back pearls and petticoats into today’s fashion trends.
Of course, what good does it do to neglect mention of the cast? The storytellers themselves. What a struggle for me to decide where to even begin? Needless to say, the talent of these actors had me heavily invested in each and every character without fail. I’ll assume a good place to start is with Brimley, our Elwood. Such a charming man. I never really knew my grandfathers, but Brimley is the kind of older man I could listen to tell stories for hours on end. I would have loved to shake his hand. As our protagonist, he is every bit Elwood P. Dowd from head to toe. Even though I didn’t interact with him personally, I spoke briefly with Thomas and asked him how it was working with Wilford. He replied, “He is one of the few great human beings left on this earth”. I believe him.
I’m in love with Carolyn Murset. She is the vessel for Veta Louise Simmons, and although that may seem like a strange way to describe her, I feel it is appropriate in the best of ways. I forgot entirely that I was watching an actress on a stage rather than a real Veta Simmons. Her charisma stole my heart. Everything about her depiction of Veta had me wanting to be on that stage with her, sipping tea and gossiping. What a treat to watch her perform. Lori Olsen, our Myrtle Mae, delighted me with her sophisticated and stubborn antics. After being mostly familiar with Elizabeth Montgomery’s Myrtle from the 1958 film adaptation, I was taken with her firmness and style rather than the awkwardness of the Myrtle in the film. Though both are charming, I love Lori in this role. The lovely nurse Ruth Kelly is portrayed by Crystal Jones, and boy does she fit the role. I loved her attitude and quirkiness, and her tantrums that were all-too-relatable. I could feel her energy from my seat, and her stage presence is demanding without being forceful. I was drawn to her so naturally. Jane Williams is such a delight as Mrs. Chauvenet! A true gossip and socialite, I was again wanting to be a society lady on stage alongside her. Her comedic remarks were my personal favorite, and her charisma is also so entertaining.
Trent Cox, Dr. Lyman Sanderson, did extremely well in his role. Since this character isn’t entirely charming or comedic, I was very impressed by his hotheadedness and perfect vibe for a part of a character that isn’t very likable at first. His arguments with Ruth had me irritated, which is exactly the kind of air he’s meant to have. I was very impressed. Don’t worry, his tone changes by the end. Dr. Chumley, portrayed by Richard Hill, was another example I can give honestly of an actor who made me forget that he was not in fact actually his character. I found myself laughing unexpectedly at his antics the most, he did so well portraying him. Trey Paterson does very well as Duane Wilson, and I loved his smooth transitions from being a tough, burly, intimidating menace to a love-struck dork while he was around Myrtle. Unrelated to his character, he is also a magician! You might catch him fidgeting with a red ball on stage if you look closely. Where does it come from? Where does it go? Carmie Golightly is Mrs. Betty Chumley, and her sweetness is so perfectly encapsulated by this character. Elwood charms her and although she denies his request to go out, the moment is tender and lovely. Her scenes are some of the warmest.
Judge Gaffney is played by David Love, and regardless of being the lawyer he certainly knows how to make an audience laugh. I’ll certainly keep his character in mind every time I need to make notes. Jacob Aloi is the young cab driver E.F Lofgren, and although his role is short-lived, his involvement is the turning point for the show and he delivers some of the most eye-opening lines and does it well. Alyna Eaves portrays Miss Johnson, and even though her role is no doubt the smallest of the cast, I absolutely must commend her for her involvement. If I remember correctly, I believe she has one or two lines. That said, she has been there with the rest of the cast through everything and I applaud her.
No show is complete (or even begun!) without its unsung heroes, the people whose faces aren’t usually seen. Kerry Perry is the producer and managing director for The Stage Door, and does a bit of everything. Jayme Castle is the stage manager, Alyna Eaves the assistant stage manager, Armando Serrano Jr. the director’s assistant, Jennifer Roberts the Lighting designer and specialist, and Jesika Neemann is the sound designer. The production would not be complete without the help of everyone involved.
Even though I only interacted with him a short time, Thomas G. Waites has such a wonderful disposition about him. At first, I didn’t recognize him, and when I finally did I became slightly star-struck and awkward. He showed my husband and I to our seats, and I fumbled and he extended his arm to catch me. After I was done embarrassing myself, I told him how badly I regretted not being able to attend the acting workshop he recently held here, and he agreed it was a shame. Likely my biggest regret. I could list all of his credentials here, however, there are so many. He’s a very talented and wonderful director.
If you want to be impressed – really impressed – given a small taste of what professional theatre is like, go see Harvey.
The Stage Door Theater Presents Harvey by Mary Chase
The Electric Theater 68 E Tabernacle, St. George UT
January 11th-20th, Thursday, Friday 7:30 PM and Saturday 2 PM
Tickets are $45-$50
The Stage Door Facebook Page
Harvey Facebook Event Page