Whatever is wrong with Elwood P. Dowd? He claims to be close friends with a six-foot-tall white rabbit named Harvey, whom only he can see. Besides that, Elwood’s perfectly normal; even better, he’s genuinely compassionate. He frequents a local bar, so perhaps the bunny is an alcoholic hallucination. Or is this delusion the product of repressed sexual urges? Maybe Elwood’s bipolar or schizophrenic or—yes!—he’s got Asperger’s. Ultimately, we’ll never diagnose what ails the hero of Mary Chase’s 1944 fantasy, and why should we? Harvey is a sweet-natured tale about tolerance, about the follies that humanize us.
Perhaps that message—which goes hard against the grain of our pharmacological times—resonated with the Roundabout Theatre Company. Or maybe it heard that Jim Parsons wanted a stage gig and scrambled to find a vehicle for him. Unfortunately, in casting and direction, this revival (the first on Broadway since James Stewart reprised Elwood in 1970) disappoints. Parsons is a logical choice to play the affable loon, but director Scott Ellis is unable to coax a performance from him that rises above blankly chipper. Stewart could act the polite, stiff gent, but he also had steel and a dash of desperation; by contrast, Parsons is consistently soft and recessive.
Just as talented and equally miscast is the wonderful Jessica Hecht as Veta, Elwood’s snobby and starchy sister, who tries to commit her eccentric brother. Veta ought to be a pill and a battle-ax. When she’s mistaken as the mad one, abducted and dunked in a tub at the asylum (offstage), the effect should be broadly comic. Instead, you recoil at the thought of fragile, neurasthenic Hecht being abused by white-coated thugs. There may be one or two cruel giggles in Harvey, but it’s the sort of gentle comedy that wouldn’t harm a hare on anybody's head.—David Cote
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