The Dowd family has a problem. Beloved brother Elwood has taken up with an unsettling best friend - Harvey, a giant, invisible rabbit whom he escorts around town and kindly introduces to everyone he meets. Elwood has always been a bit eccentric, but what is a respectable sister expected to bear - especially when she's trying to find a husband for her daughter?
That's the dilemma in "Harvey," one of American theater's most popular comedies, which Sierra Repertory Theatre is bringing to the Fallon House stage in Columbia Friday through Nov. 24.
SRT Producing Director Dennis Jones is directing the play, and considers it a gem.
"I think this is one of the finest American comedies ever written," Jones said. "We've done it once a decade at SRT. I really love it."
Elwood gives the story its heart.
"Wouldn't we all love to be as carefree, gentle and loving as Elwood?" Jones asks. "He's such a genuinely considerate human being … he just has this one flaw."
Elwood politely introduces Harvey to everyone he meets, telling them his friend is a delightful, caring pooka from the spirit world. He knows most folks can't see Harvey … or can they?
The situation increasingly perturbs his tightly wound sister, Veta Louise, who decides Elwood should be committed. But when the distracted hospital staff mistakenly locks up Veta and Elwood goes free, the chaos begins. While friends, neighbors, doctors and family grow ever more frantic, Elwood is the picture of kindness and calmness - and it's apparent who has the bigger issues.
Los Angeles actor Jeffrey Edward Peters, who played the title role in SRT's production of "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol," returns to play Elwood, and considers it one of his all-time favorite roles.
"It's such a wonderful play," he said. "It's been on my short list since I was about 13. It won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1945 because it opened people's eyes to a different way of looking at life. It's the attempt to 'debunk' magic and the unseen, those who believe and those who don't - and every view is represented. You're not sure if Harvey is there, but it becomes more and more apparent that he is. There's also love, sex, family, social status, a send-up of psychiatry - and the idea that people don't take the time to enjoy each other and really talk. It all still resonates today."
Jones and Peters said they are both thrilled with the show's ensemble. Jennie May Donnell (Mrs. Lovett in SRT's "Sweeney Todd") plays Elwood's sister, Veta, and SRT newcomer Ambien Mitchell is his self-absorbed niece, Myrtle Mae.
Veteran SRT company actor Ty Smith is the famed psychiatrist Dr. Chumley, and Southern Californian Eva Swan, who just won raves as the savvy French chef in SRT's "Don't Dress for Dinner," is Nurse Kelly.
SRT newcomer James Holbrook is the strong-arm hospital attendant Duane Wilson, William Elsman is the young Dr. Sanderson and Sonora actor Thomas F. Maguire makes a cameo appearance as taxi driver EJ Lofgren.
Rounding out the cast are Susan Michael as neighbor Mrs. Chauvenet, Jack Halton as Judge Gaffney and Barbara Ann Cecchetti as Mrs. Chumley.
"This show stands the test of time," Jones said, "and these actors all bring something special to the stage. They have the talent to bring these characters and this beautiful story to our audiences - and we hope to a new generation of theater lovers."
Jones is designing the vintage set, and SRT's resident staff complete the production team: costumes are by Bina Bieker, props by Mercy Sharpe, lights by Peter Leibold and stage management by Doug Brennan.
"Harvey" is presented with the help of Twain Harte Market and Clarke Broadcasting.
Thursday and Friday performances begin at 7 p.m., Saturday evening shows begin at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. A special "talk back" with performers follows the evening performance on Thursday, Nov. 7.
Tickets range from $26 to $32 depending on the day of the performance.
The show is rated PG, suitable for ages 8 and up.
For more information or reservations, call Sierra Rep's box office at 532-3120 or visit Sierra Rep at www.sierrarep.org.