Theatre review: Harvey – Metro gang struggles with this quaint comedy

Harvey isn’t just a six foot invisible rabbit; he’s also a bit of a sixty year-old dinosaur.  And while the gang at Vancouver’s Metro Theatre work hard in this quaint comedy from a different era, they are no match against this lumbering Argentinosaurus.

Trent Glukler and Diana Sandberg in the Metro Theatre production of HarveyOriginally written for the stage in 1944, Harvey is probably best known for the classic 1950 film version starring Jimmy Stewart as the show’s protagonist Edward P Dowd, the eccentric man who claims Harvey, a six foot rabbit that no one else can see, as his best friend.   Embarrassing his social-climbing sister Veta one too many times, his sibling hatches a plot to have him committed to the local sanatorium. Unfortunately Dowd’s intake at the hospital doesn’t go quite as planned, and the chase is on.

Trent Glukler as the affable Dowd does a decent job here, although at times it felt like he was trying too hard at being affable.  As the single characteristic that makes Dowd such a delightful anachronism amongst the hysterics of those around him, it is simply not enough to play at a folksy charm; Glukler’s dead-pan delivery at times lacked that tiny little spark behind the eyes necessary for us to fully embrace this oddball character.

There is plenty of contrasting hysterics to Dowd’s calm manner, but there is little substance behind the hodgepodge of accents and affectations that most of the other characters take on.  Susan Cox’s Veta was so hysterical that her gasping made for some very unusual phrasing and Kate Kysow, as the equally hysterical and shrill niece Myrtle Mae, became tiresome.

One bright light came with Diana Sandberg as Betty Chumley (pictured here with Glukler), the wife of the doctor who runs the sanatorium.  Unfortunately, Sandberg’s role is so fleeting we get only a few moments to enjoy her performance.  Sandberg is a perfect example of the old saying “there are no small parts, only small actors”.

Director Cristi Lowis makes things more difficult in her staging, especially in the library of Veta’s home.  With much of the action taking place upstage, the actors found themselves in awkward positions attempting to deliver their lines clearly to the audience while interacting with each other.  Lowis desperately needed to let her actors know that sometimes less is more and could have compensated for some of the dated feel of the show by pushing the action along at a much quicker pace.

Set designer Heather Stewart gives us a nice representation of both the library and doctor’s office but lighting designer Milo de Villiers appeared to have some difficulty eliminating a number of shadows which, as they invariably do, the actors always seemed to find.

Given the demographic of some of Metro’s audience I don’t doubt that there will be those that will find the quaint charm of Elwood and the nuts around him appealing.  I on the other hand, hoped for a Raptor in Argentinosaurus clothing.

2 1/2 of 5 Stars Harvey

By Mary Chase.  Directed by Cristi Lowis.  A Metro Theatre Centre production.  On stage at Metro Theatre through July, 16, 2011.  Visit http://www.metrotheatre.org for more information.

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