BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
The new Broadway season began nicely on Thursday with a sweet and funny revival of “Harvey” starring “Big Bang Theory” actor Jim Parsons, who’s downright adorable as Elwood P. Dowd.
You remember Elwood, right? He’s that mildly eccentric gent with an invisible drinking partner whose presence drives his well-to-do Denver family around the bend.
One of Broadway’s biggest hits of the 1940s (and the 1945 Pulitzer Prize winner, too), Mary Chase’s comedy later became a popular film starring James Stewart, who returned to the role again in the 1970 Broadway revival opposite Helen Hayes.
Given a solid, sincere staging for Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54 by director Scott Ellis, the play remains an easygoing comedy that gradually turns into a whimsical fantasy.
Only during the first act’s conclusion, after his sister Veta fails to commit Elwood to a sanitarium – she’s the one who gets hauled off instead – does the playwright finally tip off viewers that the unseen Harvey is something greater than a pleasant delusion. For those of you who don’t already know the story, let’s not reveal what a pooka happens to be.
Of course, alcoholism and mental aberrations are tricky business to render as light comedy, but Chase’s gentle touch keeps matters ingenuous and droll. By wisely retaining the story’s 1944 period, the director distances the play further from harsh reality and that’s appropriate, given its theme. As Elwood explains to the owner of the sanitarium, “Doctor, I have wrestled with reality for forty years, and I am happy to state that I finally won out over it.”
Harder heads than mine may find “Harvey” to be a trifle sappy in sentiment, but I find it endearing, especially when the comedy is served so well by Ellis and his excellent actors.
Never intimating that his character is a lush, Parsons lends the gentlemanly Elwood a calm and slightly dreamy manner that contrasts against the other characters, who more or less are driven into a frenzy by his chum Harvey’s unseen presence. Parsons’ open, friendly countenance and genial nature as Elwood are unassuming yet sufficiently engaging to provide the production with its glowing focal point.