June 26 2017 05:34 PM

“Harvey” both entertains and impresses

David Bendena, Caitlin Cavannaugh and Lauren Knox share a scene in "Harvey."
Courtesy Purple Rose Theatre

It was worth seeing for the harp and accordion playing, Irish step dancing, Bodhran drumming, and a masterful hula-hoop routine—and that was during the set changes. The Purple Rose Theatre Company’s production of “Harvey” had a litter of talented actors who showed off their diverse talents in their roles in the classic, Mary Chase play about an imaginary rabbit. Most excelled during scenes in the two-act comedy—and some excelled between them.

Caitlin Cavannaugh played Myrtle Mae Simmons. Between two scenes in the over two-hour show (with intermission), she proved a harp on stage was not a mere prop, by playing it. During other pauses in “Harvey,” she sometimes skillfully sang, played the accordion, or pranced like a dancer from “Riverdance.” As the Myrtle-with-lines, Cavannaugh deftly handled the role that was part nasty, part innocent, and part sexually curious.

For one of her singing breaks, David Bendena—as Duane Wilson—joined Cavannaugh by skillfully playing an Irish hand drum. As Wilson, he did his best, Seinfeld-inspired crazy Kramer imitation. His similarly wild hair, staccato movements, and weirdo speaking did add a lot to the laughs in “Harvey.”

A truly show-stopping moment was when Ruth Crawford—as Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet—filled a scene pause by twirling a hula-hoop in ever-increasing feats of difficulty. Although her speaking performance as Chauvenet didn’t receive an equally raucous reaction, her acting also deserved boisterous praise.

The entire Purple Rose cast lived up to their impressive resumes. Richard

McWilliams—as Elwood P. Dowd—nurtured his once-played-by-Jimmy-Stewart role into his own likeable and genuine character. Michelle Mountain as Veta Louise Simmons, was the definitive frazzled-yet-forceful sister. Lauren Knox as the frustrated Ruth Kelly, R.N., made her more minor role earn major attention.

“Harvey’s” set design by Sarah Pearline fitted the stellar performances. A thin-slat, inlaid hardwood floor, elaborate walls that continued through openings, and a moveable fireplace that was exchanged with French doors, were grand additions. Properties designed by Danna Segrest—including fancy portraits, a vintage phone, and furniture that seemed like museum pieces—were classy embellishments.

Elegant costumes by Suzanne Young with authentic details like fur collars, period fedoras, and seamed stockings added to the play’s ‘40’s setting. “Harvey” was both delightfully nostalgic and noticeably outdated. Guy Sanville’s direction kept the 73-year-old farce lively and well paced. The play’s reverence for pleasantness remained timeless.

The Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea is under an hour drive from the Lansing area. Meaning the trip includes a chance to visit the artsy town with unique shops and epicurean restaurants—a town well suited for one of Michigan’s premier acting companies, founded 25 years ago by Jeff Daniels. Even though I did not see him or the Pooka who was the play’s invisible character, I can still say it was a treat to see, “Harvey.”

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