THE Collective Face Theatre Ensemble welcomes Savannahians to its own mad, mad, mad, mad world as Mary Chase’s 1944 delightfully cracked comedy classic Harvey comes to the Kennedy Fine Arts Auditorium stage.
The eccentric Elwood P. Dowd, played by Eric Salles (voted Best Actor in the 2016 Best of Savannah awards), claims to have an unseen pal named Harvey, a six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall rabbit. When Elwood is sent away to a sanitarium, hilarity ensues and the audience is swept away on a wild, whimsical ride.
Starring Julie Kessler, Bobbie Renee Lewis, Gary Shelby, Philip John Trossarello, Maya Caldwell, Jessica Lyn, Newman Smith, Jason Arons, Merry Gallagher, and Andre Wortham, the performance is a showcase of stellar talent placed on a stage designed by David I.L. Poole.
We chatted with designer and director Poole to get the scoop on the highly-anticipated production.
Why Harvey now?
It's a perfect holiday treat for the family, but also the fact that the show has a glass is half-full versus half-empty mentality. I think we need that right now in the world we live in. This production tries to bring us close together, warms our hearts, and makes us belly-laugh.
Eric seems like the perfect fit for Elwood. You've seen him in many roles—what's it like seeing him in this one?
Amazing! I love how Eric transforms into every character he plays. This Elwood is an Elwood like no other. His unique interpretation of Elwood is smart, charismatic and a great loveable childlike man. His comic timing and physicality harkens on the great vaudevillian actors, and clowns of the golden age of comedy.
He has been studying the greats like Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, and modern clowns like Bill Irwin and Slava Polunin. Eric's Elwood is inquisitive, precautious and full of wonderment that is infectious. The audience will fall in love with him.
2017 is your "Season of Marginalized Measures." How does Harvey fit that theme?
I love this play in its message of who is really crazy. Harvey is a "púca"—a mythological creature that is mischievous, a shape shifter. I asked myself, why did [author Mary Chase] choose a rabbit? I did a lot of brainstorming where that was concerned...and then it dawned on me. What is the most famous rabbit that deals with madness? My inspiration came from Alice in Wonderland, "following the rabbit down the rabbit hole." In the play, Harvey is invisible, but "not seeing is believing."
And what does it mean to be marginalized? Isn’t marginalization being invisible to others, being in a position where one is rendered unimportant? This theme falls into action with this play in a lot of ways. Harvey is invisible literally, and Elwood is invisible to his family and the rest of society. Perhaps we are all invisible.
The audience is invisible to the actors on stage, but what we are trying to do is make the invisible seem viable and visible. In this world, the mad are treated as if they don’t exist, or that they should be locked away and taken out of the place where there is a normality. But what is the norm? What if we all are down that rabbit hole?
You always offer a unique reenvisioning of the stage in your productions. How are you portraying a six-and-a-half-foot-tall imaginary rabbit?
Thinking upon this notion, the play’s set is primarily two locations: the Dowd family study and the sanitarium called Chumley’s Rest. I thought because of the transitions from one location to the other and the theme of mad in a mad world, wouldn’t it be interesting if the sanitarium is a shell that envelopes the Dowd study, giving this subtle concept that the whole set is or is in the Sanitarium, and they actually live in a sanitarium, and they are all crazy?
So the house sits inside the sanitarium, and then even further, what if nothing is straight and everything is crooked—crazy angles? Also, there is the nod to “one’s head in the clouds” and Magritte paintings, but you’ll have to see the set to understand this.
We are also telling this story in a very different fashion. This isn’t your ordinary Jimmy Stewart Harvey—this is the Collective Face Theatre Ensemble version! I believe as theatre artists, we are storytellers, and it fascinating to me the different ways in which we tell stories.
If you like the film, we still are telling the same story but in a different style. I decided that from the beginning that I wanted to see what we could do with the classic gem—our version is a whole lot of vaudeville, zany Laugh-In, Three Stooges, farce, Tim Burtonesque.
We have gone in a color palette of neon bold colors—I like to describe it as high fashion couture meets 1940s-1950s cuts, sorta like the town in Edward Scissorhands. Performances from the actors are over-the-top comedic, larger-than-life, but still tell the same story.
We are having a lot of fun with this world that is created. We are breaking the fourth wall, making this production like none other seen. I want to create memories and productions that reveal the magic of the theatre, and what a perfect way to create memories with a beloved classic during the holiday season. A gift of theatre.
Your SSU Players By The Sea collaboration continues. How are students involved in this production?
Students have helped build the set and there are many involved in the workings of the show. I love this partnership with SSU as it fosters an environment of hands-on training—so important in the world of theatre. The students get the benefit of working with pros and we get the benefit of helping to create a learning environment of assistantships, mentorships. A win-win!