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Unplugged: Slapstick meets social commentary in Collective Face’s ‘Harvey’

  • Eric Salles as Elwood P. Dowd in Collective Face Theatre Ensemble’s “Harvey.” (Photo by Mercede Brown)
 

Unplugged: Slapstick meets social commentary in Collective Face’s ‘Harvey’

06 Dec 2017

Elwood P. Dowd, played with a winning verve by Eric Salles, is in many ways the most well-adjusted character in The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble’s production of Mary Chase’s play “Harvey,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945.

Elwood enjoys the company of anyone around him, holds no grudges, lives in the moment and is unfailingly polite, even to his sister and others who try to commit him to a mental hospital.

But Elwood has one trait that his snooty sister Veta — played with manic abandon by Julie Kessler — simply can’t tolerate. Elwood’s best friend is a large rabbit named Harvey, who is invisible to most of the characters in the play.

Chase’s play might have been awarded the Pulitzer for drama, but director David I.L. Poole and The Collective Face wisely present “Harvey” as something between slapstick farce and wry social commentary.

Elwood wears a rather drab tweed suit throughout the play, but the other characters wear bright, brilliant colors amidst the cool, dark hues and surreal angles of Poole’s set. The striking visuals complement the actors’ quirky physicality and broad expressions. I especially enjoyed the sexually suggestive interactions between the young psychiatrist Dr. Sanderson (Philip Trossarello) and nurse Ruth Kelly (Maya N. Caldwell).

Poole and the cast keep the production on a quick pace, but Chase’s first act nevertheless seemed too long to me. The play picks up, however, in the second act, when the themes are explored more fully and when Harvey begins to seem like more than simply the product of Elwood’s imagination.

“Harvey” is the second production of The Collective Face’s ambitious season, which continues in March with “The Great Gatsby” and concludes in May with Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County.”

The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble’s production of “Harvey” continues through Dec. 17 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays in the Kennedy Fine Arts Building at Savannah State University. General admission tickets are $25. Tickets for students, seniors and active military are $20, and tickets are just $5 for SSU students, faculty and staff.

Bill Dawers writes City Talk in Savannah Morning News and blogs at Savannah Unplugged (www.billdawers.com) and hissing lawns (www.hissinglawns.com). Email billdawers@comcast.net.

IF YOU GO

What: Collective Face Theatre Ensemble presents “Harvey”

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 8, 9, 15, 16; 3 p.m. Dec. 10, 17

Where: Savannah State University, Kennedy Fine Arts Auditorium

Cost: $25; $20 for seniors, students, military; $5 SSU students, faculty, staff

Info: collectiveface.org

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