It's still a little difficult to accept that Harvey by Mary Chase won the Pulitzer Prize, beating out The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, but I suppose after the turmoil of war years, the fantasy of a comforting six-foot pooka was settling entertainment. The 1944 comedy is back on Broadway at Studio 54. It remains a classic example of the fanciful boulevard comedy that governed the Broadway stage until television adopted the art form and swallowed the playwrights who were masters of drawing-room humor.
It still manages to offer a kind of genteel charm. Chase, who died in 1981. never repeated her success, despite modest attempts with Midgie Purvis starring Tallulah Bankhead and Mrs. McThing with Helen Hayes. The current revival of Harvey recruits Jim Parsons, best known for his role as Dr. Sheldon Cooper on the television show The Big Bang Theory. As Elwood P. Dowd, whose perennial companion is an invisible rabbit, Parsons offers an amiable alcoholic, and is blithely good natured, but he misses the amusing innocence of the character and fails to target the comic mark.
The casting is uneven. Elwood's loving sister, Veta Louise, so troubled by her brother's friendship with a creature she cannot see, is acted by Jessica Hecht, and sadly chooses to skirt the grand dithery quality once so keenly drawn on film by Josephine Hull and on the stage by the likes of Helen Hayes and Marion Lorne. It's a grand historic portrait of all that is ditsy, and Hecht misses its kooky charm.
Worse, Tracee Chimo as daughter Myrtle Mae doesn't reveal the doubting perplexity and quirky confusion of her environment. Charles Kimbrough, however, is delightfully bumptious and appropriately pompous as the perplexed Dr. Chumley. Larry Bryggman offers good stuffy support as the supportive Judge Gaffney, and Holley Fain is a luscious nurse. Carol Kane shines briefly as the doctor's wife.
For the record, the role of Elwood Dowd was created by Frank Fay and subsequently acted by Joe E. Brown (in more than 1,700 performances), Jack Buchanan, James Dunn, Burgess Meredith, Bert Lahr and Art Carney (TV). James Stewart was Elwood on Broadway in the summer of 1947 prior to appearing in the 1959 film. He returned to Broadway in 1970 opposite Helen Hayes, and played it in London in 1975, and he remains the definitive Dowd.
Brown toured extensively as Elwood, and during his appearance in Montclair, N.J., I recall him pulling up an extra chair during his curtain speech for the ever present Harvey.