Mary Chase’s play has enough going for it that Ron DeLucia is convinced that Home Made Theater’s production of “Harvey” won’t have the iconic specter of Jimmy Stewart looming in the background.
“It’s a great play, fuller than the movie, and the character just comes to you,” said DeLucia, who will take his second turn at playing Elwood P. Dowd, the character Stewart portrayed on Broadway and then made famous in the 1950 film version.
“As for approaching the role, I’m not worried about Jimmy Stewart. I mean, he was great in the movie, but you read your lines and the play takes you there. It’s very well written.”
The show is being produced by Home Made Theater and opens Friday at the Spa Little Theater in Saratoga State Spa Park, and continues for two more weekends through May 8. The play won a Pulitzer Prize for Chase in 1945 — they didn’t start awarding Tonys until 1947 — and tells the story of a gentle, kind-hearted man, Elwood, whose constant companion is an invisible 6-foot white rabbit. At least Elwood thinks he’s white. The rest of us don’t know for sure.
WHERE: Spa Little Theater, Saratoga Spa State Park
WHEN: 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 8 p.m., April 29-30; 2 p.m., May 1; 8 p.m. May 6-7; 2 p.m., May 8
HOW MUCH: $26-$23
MORE INFO: 587-4427 or www.homemadetheater.org
“A lot of guys have played Elwood, but there’s only one Harvey and he does all the shows that are being produced,” joked DeLucia, who first played Elwood 20 years ago with the now-defunct St. Mary’s Players of Clifton Park. “I was driving home from rehearsal the other day and I just started talking to him. He kind of takes over. I’ll be talking to him during a break in rehearsals. People are going to think that I need to be incarcerated.”
For Gazette theater writer xMatthew G. Moross’ review of this show, click here.
“Harvey” opened on Broadway in November of 1944 and ran until January of 1949, a total of 1,775 shows. The original Elwood P. Dowd on stage was Frank Fay before Stewart took over in 1947 and then did the movie in 1950, earning one of his five Oscar nominations. Josephine Hull and Jesse White were the only other members of the Broadway cast that made it into the Hollywood film, with Hull winning a Best Actress Oscar for reprising her role of Veta Louise Simmons, Elwood’s sister.
Chase’s Major success
“Harvey” was by far the biggest success of Chase’s career. Born in Denver in 1906, she worked at the Rocky Mountain News for seven years before leaving the newspaper business and becoming a playwright. She wrote 14 plays, two children’s novels and collaborated with Oscar Brodney on the screenplay for “Harvey.” Chase died in 1981.
Included in the cast along with DeLucia for the Home Made Theater production are Robin Leary as Veta Simmons, Jessica Weiss as Myrtle Mae Simmons, Peter Burleigh as Dr. Sanderson and Amanda Martini-Hughes as Nurse Kelly. Steve Coats is directing the show and Duncan Morrison is the scenic designer.
Coats has directed a number of shows at HMT and has also worked there as an actor, sometimes sharing the stage with DeLucia.
“He’s a very imaginative and giving actor, and there’s just something in his personality that is gentle and generous,” Coats said of DeLucia. “Ron really is interested in people, he’s a great listener, and those are both qualities you need in Elwood P. Dowd. I’ve probably done at least six shows with Ron now, and we have a few things in common, like our taste for comedy. For me it was just a no-brainer that he would be our Elwood.”
It is Elwood’s likability that makes “Harvey” such a great play, according to DeLucia.
“I think people like someone who is nice, is not judgmental, and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body,” he said. “Elwood takes things very literally, and as a result there are some very funny lines in the play. People ask him if he would like something, and he responds, ‘What did you have in mind?’ It’s stuff like that I just love.”
There’s also the story about Elwood’s mother giving him advice on how to life his life.
“ ‘My mother always told me, in this world you can be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant,’ ” said DeLucia, remembering his lines from the play. “For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”
DeLucia’s most recent work at HMT was in “Noises Off” last year. His first acting appearance for that group was in “The Rose Tattoo” in 1988. Typically, he does about one show a season.
“It would be nice to do more, but it depends on my schedule,” he said. “I’m passionate about it, like we all are, but it gets frustrating because work and life seem to get in the way of the fun stuff.”
Painting of ‘Harvey’
Part of Morrison’s set for “Harvey” is a large oil painting of the title character with Elwood. The work was done by Skidmore College student Elisabeth Svenning.
“My wife teaches at Skidmore, and we saw an art exhibition there a couple of months ago with Elisabeth’s work,” said Coats.
“We knew she was interested in the theater and visual arts, so we asked her if she had the time to do something for us and she said yes. It’s an actual oil painting, and she did a great job for us.”
Categories: Life and Arts