“Harvey,” the play about a man and his invisible rabbit counterpart, has eluded Providence Players’ director Chip Gertzog for six years, till this Friday, when the Pulitzer prize-winning play comes to the Players’ home stage at the James Lee Community Center Theatre.
The Players began rehearsing the stage adaptation of “Harvey,” a three-act play written by Mary Chase in 1944, in 2003 when the company discovered they did not have rights to perform the play, said Gertzog.
“The publishing company essentially froze the rights to the play,” he said, adding that with each new season, the Players sought to run “Harvey” only to be told once again the play was a no-go.
Gertzog said choosing to perform “Harvey,” and persisting in obtaining the play’s rights, wasn’t a tough call.
“It’s an old chestnut comedy,” he said. “It’s also one of the earliest comedies I connected to as a child, and I’ve always been interested in doing the play. So I kept chasing after it year after year.”
As luck would have it, this year’s phone call resulted in a more agreeable answer, and the show was on.
“It’s cool to have an awful lot of the people originally cast in 2003 cast again for this performance, although some roles have been changed,” Gertzog said.
This time round, Mike Mattheisen, a founding member of the Players, was cast in the role of Elwood P. Dowd.
Gertzog said Mattheisen characteristics work well for the Elwood character.
In the original movie “Harvey” screen legend Jimmy Stewart played the affable, neurotic Dowd who must convince his friends, and the psychiatrists, that he is not insane, and that Harvey, a “pooka,” or creature of Celtic mythology, does exist.
Eleven fellow cast members and a production team of 12 join Mattheisen in bringing “Harvey” to life.
Gertzog said the play is “a big spoof on psychiatry” that forces audiences to determine whether Dowd possesses a mental illness or a vibrant imagination.
Gertzog said he also hopes audiences will enjoy the play’s production aspects, which includes a reversible set that will shift between the Dowds’ Western-style Victorian mansion and the psychiatric ward.
“We won’t black out when the set changes,” Gertzog said. “The change takes about two and a half minutes, and I don’t want audiences in the dark for that long. I think it will be entertaining for them to watch the set change as music plays.”
The elusive title character will also make a kind of appearance during scenes.
“People will be aware of when Harvey is on stage. Lights will move across the stage, doors will open and shut and Harvey will be chasing a few characters around the stage as well,” Gertzog said.
In addition, Harvey will take a bow with the cast at the end, he added.
“Only those who believe will see Harvey,” Gertzog explained with a smile.
“Harvey” premieres this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the James Lee Community Center Theatre at 2855 Annandale Road in Falls Church. More information is available at www.providenceplayers.org.