The Curious Savage by John Patrick
Performance length: about 2 hours with an intermission
SET DESIGN: Easy
COSTUME DESIGN: Easy
CAST POTENTIAL: The characters in Harvey are all classics and have been portrayed time and again by the best actors in stage and film. Your cast will relish recreating their undeniable charm and unenviable foibles.
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CROWD REACTION: For over sixty years, Mary Chase’s Pulitzer winning comedy is a thoroughly unique play. Charming, earnest, and subtly surreal, it promises a unique theatrical experience.
SUMMARY: Elwood P. Dowd, an absolutely kind and engaging socialite with a bit of a drinking problem, believes his best friend is a six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey, who Elwood introduces to everyone. Invisible to all, Harvey’s existence (or lack thereof) troubles Elwood’s family, particularly his older sister Veta, who finds Elwood’s behavior both worrisome and embarrassing.
Veta attempts to commit Elwood to a sanatorium, but Elwood’s flirtatious personality bewitches the hospital’s staff and Veta gets committed instead. Eventually, the staff realizes that Elwood is the one who is insane, but not before the invisible Harvey starts having an influence on the doctors, too.
CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: The play is driven more by the charm and wit of its characters than by the silliness of its plot. And, as in all good drama, the characters’ desires and flaws are put in direct conflict. The cast should focus on the contradictions inherent in the roles they play. Though Elwood is slightly insane (or is he?), and a bit of an alcoholic, his attitude and optimism are infectious. Veta, however, sane and genuinely worried about Elwood, is also self-seeking, worried for her social status and overly troubled by the inconvenience of Harvey. The psychiatrists, Dr. Sanderson and Dr. Chumley, are educated and professional, but are abusive and cruel to their staff. These contradictions are pivotal because it puts the audience’s values in conflict as well. What’s more important, status or kindness?
SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: The set should show contrast between the lavishness and comfort of the Dowd residence with the austerity and rigid environment of the sanatorium. Both locations symbolize the pressures of conformity: the former, an ideal existence filled with all the luxuries and fineries of life; the latter, a cruel, rigid environment designed to subdue and restrict abnormality. In either case, freedom of personality and expression are limited with little room for an eccentric friend, such as Harvey. Suit the scenic design to enhance these themes.
PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Much like The Curious Savage or You Can’t Take it with You, Harvey is a play that exalts the strange and offbeat. It’s a testimony towards the value of kindness over the importance of conventionality. Elwood repeats the words of his mother: “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” And then follows, “Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.” He drinks, too much to be sure, and he sees an invisible rabbit, but his attitude and optimism are infectious. If he is crazy, then his insanity is nothing but a footnote to the overall quality of his person. Chase seems to insist that we could all use a little Harvey in our lives.