Appleseed Productions's "Harvey" provides ample laughs and life lessons

 Alan Stillman (left), Heather Roach and CJ Young in in a scene from Appleseed's "Harvey."  Photo by Sean Walter. Harvey

Who: Appleseed Productions

Where: 116 W. Glen Ave., Syracuse, NY

When: Through Nov. 9, 2013

Tickets: $18

Review by Insher Pan

Sometimes we dream of having friends with supernatural powers, who can share secrets and help us to accomplish everything we want to do. But what if this friend makes you look like an eccentric, and you have to make a choice between them and your “ordinary life?”

Roy Van Norstrand directs the comedy “Harvey”, the winner of Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945 written by Mary Chase, for Appleseed Productions. Premiering in 1944 on Broadway and closing in 1949, “Harvey” introduces us to Elwood P. Dowd and his invisible friend Harvey.

Though Harvey, whom Dowd (CJ Young, producing artistic director of Appleseed Productions) introduces to everybody as his best friend, never appears on the stage, he is there with Dowd, sometimes wearing a coat and a fedora with two big holes for his vertical long ears. He is a pooka-more specifically, a fairy spirit in the form of a six feet and eight inches tall white rabbit-from old Celtic mythology.

But other characters who can’t see Harvey think that Dowd is an annoying crank, especially Veta Louise Simmons (Anne Fitzgerald) and Myrtle Mae Simmons (Gina Fortino), Dowd’s sister and niece who live with him in the house he inherits from his mother. Both of them disbelieve and hate Dowd’s rabbit friend, and eager to get rid of him, or them.

Thus, after Dowd introduces this strange unseen pooka friend to Mrs. Simmons’s social friends and as a result, ruins her party, she decides to send her brother to Chumley’s Rest, a sanitarium, to have him committed as a mental patient and shut him away.

Then a miracle happens. Doctor Lyman Sanderson (Alan Stillman) and the nurse Ruth Kelly (Heather Roach) mistakes Mrs. Simmons as the patient, keeping her in the sanitarium and letting Dowd go. When they finally figure out the mistake, all characters start to seek for Dowd everywhere.

Dowd never gets hysterical even when he has to make a choice to be with either his family or Harvey; everybody else in the show does that frequently. But he does think differently from others.

Gina Fortino, Anne Fitzgerald (both left) and Kathleen Whipple in a scene from Appleseed's "Harvey."  Photo by Bryan Simcox.

When he heard an over six-foot rabbit leaning up against a lamp post and calling his name, what he didn’t think “Oh my, a large rabbit!” or “That rabbit is talking to me!”, but “I thought nothing of that because when you've lived in a town as long as I've lived in this one, you get used to the fact that everybody knows your name.” And naturally, he went over to chat with the OVER SIX-FOOT TALL RABBIT.

The cast is fascinating. They all reach to the point of what the characters should be in your mind, ranging from Young, the mild and affable gentleman Dowd, to Steve Smith as the irascible young male nurse Duane Wilson.

CJ Young is a fantastic Elwood P. Dowd. Talking softly and politely, Young embodies the old fashion gentleman. He always wears tidy suits and hats, smiling with innocence to everyone. To confirm his unseen fellow is right around him (besides talking to Harvey) Young’s actions such as helping him adjusting his tie, making eye contact with Harvey all the time: looking up in a certain angle with his eyes filled with love and emotion. Before the door is opened, Young has already convinced us that Harvey is with him.

Fitzgerald catches Mrs. Simmons’s ambivalence so well: she loves her brother so much, but she also can’t bear his crazy fantasy friend, that big rabbit, any longer. Fitzgerald’s performance expresses that dilemma through the show, and erupts at the end, crying and hugging her brother tight. Fortino, as Myrtle Simmons, the mean and selfish niece wearing dark purple shirt with pink polka-dotted, rosy pink skirt and a pink fascinator, doesn’t act that way. She dislikes her uncle and spares no effort to show her aversion.

As the show is performed at the Atonement Stage, a small theater in the basement of Atonement Lutheran Church, we can see every little thing on the stage easily.

The show is filled with brilliant funny dialogues, and with a happy ending full of love and gratification. But it calls up tears at the end in a way; at least it made my eyes water. Other than just laughter and humor, it arouses some life-long philosophical questions seriously. What do we expect from our friend, and what kind of person do we really want to be?