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BCT keeps things hopping with ‘Harvey’

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BCT keeps things hopping with ‘Harvey’ (photo courtesy of Bangor Community Theatre)

BANGOR – Local audiences can expect a hopping good time courtesy of Bangor Community Theatre.

BCT is presenting their production of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic 1944 comedy “Harvey” at Bangor Grange Hall #372. The show – directed by Irene Dennis – runs through Nov. 4.

It’s the story of a man and his best friend - a friend who just happens to be a six-foot tall rabbit that only he can see. Despite that – or perhaps because of it – he is one of the most amiable, friendly fellows you could ever hope to meet. However, there are those around him who want to relieve him of his friend … and not all of them have his best interests at heart.

“Harvey” is a story about the difference between being grounded in reality and having your head in the clouds … and about whether it really matters as long as you manage to be a good person. If your fantasy isn’t hurting anyone, then what’s the harm? Not to mention – who’s to say what’s real, anyway?

Veta Simmons (Doreen Moody) and her daughter Myrtle Mae (Marty Kelley) live in the Old Dowd Mansion, formerly home of Veta’s now-deceased mother. Veta desperately wants to make inroads into the town’s upper crust circles, both for her own benefit and for the marriage prospects of her daughter.

However, her designs on high society are complicated by the presence of her brother Elwood (Garrett Fitzgerald). See, Elwood was the sole beneficiary of their mother’s estate, meaning that he controls both the house and the money. That wouldn’t be a problem – Elwood is almost preternaturally good-natured – except for one thing: Harvey.

Who’s Harvey? Well, Harvey is Elwood’s invisible pal, a six-foot-tall anthropomorphic rabbit that Elwood refers to as a pooka and insists on introducing to everybody – including the uptight society-types that Veta wants so desperately to impress.

And so, in an effort to get Elwood out of the picture, Veta heads to Chumley’s Rest Sanitarium. She sits down with Dr. Sanderson (Alex Kearns) and Nurse Kelly (Melissa Egolf) and tries to have her brother committed. But Elwood’s amiable charm and her own desperation lead to a number of mistakes – it isn’t long before both Veta’s lawyer Judge Gaffney (Eli Whitney) and the sanitarium’s namesake Dr. Chumley (Roland Dube) are involved.

Despite the chaos around him, Elwood continues to amble along without a care in the world, an utter innocent who simply doesn’t worry about anything beyond making new friends, having a few drinks and hanging out with his good buddy Harvey.

As for whether Elwood is crazy, well … crazy is in the eye of the beholder. And if you’re a good person, does it even matter one way or the other?

“Harvey” has been a mainstay of community theaters for decades. You wouldn’t think that a show three-quarters of a century old would maintain relevance into the 21st century, but it holds up surprisingly well. There’s a universality to the themes that rings true even so many years later.

Director Irene Dennis has a firm grasp on those themes, letting the beating heart of the show lead the way. The result is a show that is very much a throwback – the set, costumes and overall aesthetic are all true to period – while still feeling current in the ways that matter. She has created a sense of energetic comfort within the production that makes for a warm and welcoming viewing experience.

Garrett Fitzgerald leads the way as Elwood P. Dowd. His presence is gentle, his expression ever bemused; he wanders in and out of scenes with a gentle aimlessness that captures perfectly the big heart and affable attitude of the character. His lack of guile never seems anything less than genuine. It’s a fine performance. Doreen Moody’s tightly-wound Veta is a wonderful counterpoint to the gentle Elwood; she brims with energy as she moves through the space. She has a churning, relentless physicality that is fun to watch. As Myrtle Mae, Marty Kelley projects a delightful dim-wittedness; Myrtle’s cluelessness is much different than that of her Uncle Elwood. Kelley wields her expressive facial features to her advantage.

As the staid, smug Dr. Sanderson, Alex Kearns gives us the epitome of the young blowhard, the hotshot who can’t be told anything. Opposite him, Melissa Egolf endows Nurse Kelly with a gentle sweetness … along with the occasional glimpse of an edge. There’s a fun “will they/won’t they” energy to their dynamic, a nice chemistry. Roland Dube is all bloviating brashness as Dr. Chumley, while Eli Whitney brings his own buttoned-down gruffness to his portrayal of Judge Gaffney. Stephen Estey provides tough guy goofiness as sanitarium orderly Wilson, while Leslie Snow, Mary Norment and Jon Burroughs fill out the ensemble in small, vital moments.

BCT’s “Harvey” is an appealing piece of theater, featuring a game cast telling a thoughtful story of tender hilarity. Packed with big feelings and big laughs, it’s a show you’d do well to hop on over and check out.

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