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'Harvey' opens CRT's new season June 27

Acting on stage with other humans is hard enough, but interacting with a 6-foot rabbit that just happens to be invisible to everyone else, well, that is one big challenge.

In Clackamas Repertory Theatre’s upcoming play “Harvey,” opening June 27, Jayson Shanafelt plays Elwood P. Dowd, an affable fellow who has created a relationship with that rabbit, named Harvey.

Shanafelt said that the hardest part is figuring out where Harvey is supposed to be, in their scenes together.

“Sometimes we have someone stand in so I can impose Harvey on them, so we can construct blocking for an invisible character,” he said.

by: PHOTO: DICK TRTEK - A dramatic scene from 'Harvey' unfolds. Pictured left to right are Amanda Valley, Tobias Andersen and Jayson Shanafelt.The plot of “Harvey” revolves around the fact that Elwood lives with his sister, Veta, and her daughter, Myrtle Mae, who “are getting increasingly frustrated at having to accommodate for a character that they can’t see,” Shanafelt said.

Early in the play, Veta gives a party to introduce her daughter to society, and when Elwood and Harvey show up, things go horribly wrong.

“His sister decides to have him committed to a sanitarium, but when she visits the place to explain the situation, people think she is crazy. This gets unraveled, but then Harvey goes missing,” said director Doren Elias.

The play is set in 1944, “an interesting time period when people had a fear of psychiatry and people in white coats,” so the plot thickens when the director of the sanitarium, Dr. Chumley, and Elwood end up in a bar, and Chumley begins to see and believe in Harvey, Elias added.

A theater classic

“Harvey” is a classic play for a good reason, Elias said, because “the writing is so good. It is a fast-paced comedy with snappy dialogue from another era.”

In addition to having to work around an invisible rabbit, the play presents a few other challenges, namely the switching back and forth between dramatically different sets, including a mansion, where Elwood and his sister live, and the sanitarium.

Timing is so important, since “there are a ton of entrances and exits thorough a lot of doors. There are intricate rhythmic patterns so the actors just miss each other,” Elias said.

He added that he is grateful to scene and lighting designer Chris Whitten for giving him rotating set pieces that allow for “enormous scene changes without a huge disruption in the play.”

Audiences will like “Harvey,” Elias said, because they will appreciate what author Mary Chase “has to say about life, psychiatry and Elwood’s unique perspective on life.”

Well-developed characters

Elias describes Elwood as an “eccentric character,” but Shanafelt notes that Elwood “charms people as he tries to introduce them to his friend.”

One character who is more frustrated than charmed by Elwood is his sister, Veta, played by Amanda Valley.

“Veta is a fretful mom, and she wants to get her daughter started off on the right foot and find her a husband. But Elwood and his peculiarities are getting in the way of her plans for Myrtle Mae,” Valley said.

The hardest part about playing the role is toeing the line between being “totally annoyed with, yet still loving Elwood and trying to do the right thing. We all have family members we love, but they make us crazy. This play is just taking it to its logical absurdity,” she said.

Dr. Chumley also is able to resist Elwood’s charm, at first, said Tobias Andersen.

He described his part as a “self-assured man, who is good and he knows it. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and things will be done his way and right now.”

But Chumley has secret yearnings that emerge when he interacts with Elwood and Harvey, and, ultimately, the “pompous doctor who thinks he has things all figured out comes to find out differently.”

Andersen, who has been making his living in theater for 48 years, said he has done some of the best work of his career at CRT. He noted that he could not pick out a favorite moment in “Harvey,” because all the scenes are “delicious.”

Valley’s favorite part of the play is at the end, when everyone comes to a realization. “It has a happy ending and it is always nice to do a happy ending,” she said.

Now you see him

What: Clackamas Repertory Theatre presents “Harvey,” directed by Doren Elias

When: June 27-July 21; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays

Where: Osterman Theatre at Clackamas Community College

Tickets: Season tickets and single tickets may be purchased at clackamasrep.org or by calling 503-594-6047.

Cast: Tobias Andersen, Bonnie Auguston, Nathan Crosby, Michael Mitchell, Kevin Newland Scott, Annie Rimmer, Jayson Shanafelt, Cyndy Smith-English, Amanda Valley and William Wilson.

More: CRT continues its season in August with “Kiss Me Kate,” and concludes with the farce “The 39 Steps” in late September.




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