Conventional magic entertains an audience by having a man pull a rabbit out of his hat. This weekend, stage magic will feature the same three things, but in a different order.
“Harvey,” the first play of the Forest Roberts 2007-2008 “Drop Everything” season changes it up by featuring an invisible man-sized rabbit wearing a hat. The play, directed by Keli Truckey, will run through Saturday, Oct. 6, with nightly shows at 7:30 pm and an Oct. 6 matinee at 1 p.m.
This imaginary six-foot-tall white rabbit, affectionately named “Harvey,” is the constant companion and best friend of the main character of the play, Elwood P. Dowd, played by Ben Filipowicz.
Dowd’s relationship with the rabbit puts strain on his family, Veta Louise and Myrtle May, played by Kelley Ross and Emily Strazzinski, respectively. They grow tired of having to set extra places at the table for him and having to move over to make room on the couch. This delusion also severely hampers their social life since the first thing Dowd does when he meets someone is introduce them to a man-sized rabbit they can’t see.
As a result of their mounting frustrations, they make the decision to try to commit him. Dowd characteristically takes everything in stride, and even when he is at the asylum he is na’ve to their intentions.
“Elwood comes across as slow a lot of the time; people are trying to put him away in the asylum. He doesn’t catch on to this, not because he’s slow, but because he’s content,” Filipowicz said. “To him, there is no dark motivation.”
Filipowicz shows Dowd’s carefree nature through the use of body language, which is something Jimmy Stewart brought to the Elwood character in both the 1950 movie and the subsequent stage editions of “Harvey.”
“It’s the very slow, confident happy movements that Jimmy had that you have to use when you play Elwood,” Filipowicz said.
Although his movements are similar to Stewart’s, Filipowicz said he is trying to bring something of his own to the character.
“I keep slipping into the Jimmy voice, even when I don’t mean to,” he said.
As the play progresses, the audience embraces Harvey as if he were really on stage.
“I like it because everybody feels that Harvey is actually there,” said senior nursing major Jennifer Patterson. “The audience wants to believe he’s real.”
Ross said the message of this play is one of acceptance.
“We need to accept someone’s reality even if we don’t share it,” she said.
It is this message that drew Truckey to “Harvey” in the first place, she said.
“I saw a production in the early 1990’s. I really am drawn to the possibility that some people might see rabbits in order to be happier beings. I think lots of people walk around right now with various forms of reality in their head, be that schizophrenic delusions or chosen coping mechanisms,” she said.
As long as these illusions don’t harm anybody, the world may be a better place because of them.
“Elwood makes the world a better place because he has his rabbit,” Truckey said.
“He is perfectly peaceful in going about his day. He’s not hurting anybody with this rabbit. It is other people’s intolerance of something foreign to them that drives them to attempt to change something that’s not really broken.”