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A Giant Rabbit, a Final Curtain: 2nd Street Theater closes down with a spirited take on Harvey 

2nd Street Theater closes down with a spirited take on Harvey.

click to enlarge harvey-cast.jpg
Brian Johnson, director of 2nd Street Theater's last official production, Harvey, rallied his cast at the beginning of a recent dress rehearsal. He joked, "You should all feel honored and dismissed," at being the final play before the theater closes.

In true "the show must go on" form, owner and artistic director Maralyn Thoma remains optimistic. She spoke of her love of the theater, the cast, the community, while lamenting the inability to finance the business during times when shows aren't playing. Others have shown interest in the space and Thoma sounds confident the theater will continue in new incarnations.

I was treated to a sneak peek of the behind-the-scenes creation of Harvey and took in a full-run dress rehearsal. In what felt like an Inside the Actor's Studio moment, we were even privy to director Johnson's critiques after each act. Though it is unfair to fully review a dress rehearsal, what with a barren stage and unfinished costumes, Harvey is a graceful way for 2nd Street Theater to close its final curtain.

Harvey centers on the seemingly "eccentric" and borderline alcoholic Elwood P. Dowd's friendship with a six-foot-tall rabbit only he can see. Forever associated with Jimmy Stewart in the 1950 movie version, Dowd is a difficult character to capture. Jim Lee gives an effective performance as he balances between simplicity and optimism. Though I missed the complexity of Stewart's portrayal, the feeling that maybe Dowd isn't as "simple" as his family suspects, Lee makes up for this with an endearing tenderness. It is not easy to make an audience feel empathy for a man with an invisible best friend.

Susan Benson as Veta Louise Simmons, Dowd's sister, gives a show-stopping performance. She is the sort of character so concerned with what "others" think of her that she becomes a people-pleasing, whirling dervish on stage. Her frenetic worry remains a constant source of humor and propels the action forward without becoming overly farcical.

Savannah Gardner, cast as Veta's daughter, Myrtle Mae, shines as she scurries about the set in a pink "good girl" sweater while she not-so-secretly longs to dip the toes of her patent leather shoes into adulthood.

I would be remiss not to mention Harvey. The title "character" is referred several times in the play as a pooka, which the Encarta Dictionary defines as: "In an Irish folktale, a mischievous spirit, especially one that takes on the form of an animal." The crux of the play is trying to answer the question of whether Harvey is real or imagined. As the action rises, Veta Louise admits to having once seen Harvey's shadow. A doctor at a sanatorium where she wants to commit her brother becomes enchanted by the rabbit's charm. Maybe what is most crucial is if we, the audience, will fall under his spell? With a director as decisive and skilled as Brian Johnson and a cast so dedicated to this production, I wouldn't be surprised if a 6 foot tall rabbit was waiting to follow each one of us home at the play's conclusion, closing down the 2nd Street in true style.

Harvey

8pm Wednesdsays-Saturdays, 3pm Sundays. December 3-19. 2nd Street Theater, 220 NE Lafayette Ave. $18/adults, $16/students and seniors. Visit www.2ndstreettheater.com for tickets.

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