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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: Centenary Stage Company’s Season Opener ‘Harvey’ is a Charmer

Harvey Pic byBob Eberle

​The ​Centenary ​Stage ​Company in Hackettstown opened the 2015-15 season with the classic 1940's comedy Harvey. The play​, a  Pulitzer Prize winn​er  by Mary Chase, is the charming tale of one of the best known characters in American theat​er....Elwood ​P. Dowd. Yes, the play may ​show its age​ a bit, ​a fugitive from the sterile world of Turner Classic Movies, ​but ​it is pure fun, safe for all eyes and ears. Perfect all-family entertainment.​

Director Carl Wallnau has beautifully brought to life this tale of a man whose best friend and constant companion is a six foot and one inch tall rabbit… that only he, of course, can see.

The success of the comedy belongs in large part to the performance of Steven L. Barron, a veteran ​of tv, films and stage ​including HBO's Boardwalk Empire and 12 ​Centenary Stage productions, however his first since the ​Lackland Center ​opened in 201​0. Barron is excellent. His Elwood has the perfect gentle, honest, naive qualities and gentlemanly demeanor so necessary to the success of the play. The fact that ​Elwood ​is a regular at all of the town's ​many alcohol emporiums ​might explain his ​unique choice of companion ​(is he the ​leading ​town drunk​?). This pastime is only alluded to in the play. ​He is never seen inebriated. Besides ​Jimmy Stewart's now iconic movie Elwood, ​Barron's Elwood reminds us of the marvelous French comedian and film maker of the post war period, Jacques Tati. His character ​Monsieur Hulot had the same gentle quality.

Elwood lives a comfortable life, having inherited the family's substantial home, and sufficient ​wealth from his mother. He shares the home with his sister Vata Louise Simmons (Colleen Smith​ Wallnau) and niece Myrtle Mae (Tyler Milazzo). ​Naturally, both mother and daughter​ are more than chagrined, perhaps mortified is a better word, by the social limitations Harvey and Elwood have inflicted on them. ​​Colleen​ ​Smith Wallnau, with extensive national and regional credits in​cluding the original 1992 Broadway production of Crazy for You, delivers a very impressive performance as the frantic sister Vata. Never over the top, she is a wonderful "hoot" .....responsible for many of the play’s laughs. Tyler Milazzo ​, also a​ ​Centenary College Theatre Department student) nicely plays the also frantic, niece ​Myrtle Mae whose marital prospects are severely limited by her uncle's bizarre behavior.​...after all, how do you explain Harvey. ​Minor note: she might be better served by reducing the pace of her delivery in several scenes. The need for the audience​’s full​ compr​e​hension should trump the ​accurate but frantic pace called for in the script.

​The fine cast of Harvey is surprisingly large...12, including five Equity members. Standout performances are by ​John Little, as the lead psychiatrist, Willliam Chumley, the well-matched junior psychiatrist Lyman Sanderson played by Christopher Young and the nurse Ruth​ Kelly played by Erica Knight. Knight's chair ballet with Steven Barron is a particular joy. ​Plus, Chris Kolwicz, also a Centenary College Theatre Department student, ​has several very funny bits as the sanatorium orderly, Duane Wilson.

The supporting cast includes: Angela Della Ventura is Betty Chumley, Dr Chumley’s endearing wife, David Scheffler as Judge Omar Gaffney, Deborah Guarino as Mrs. Ethel Chauvinet, the society matron, Ernest Scarborough as E.J Lofgren and Lisa Kosak as Miss Johnson.​

​Before we go any further, an acknowledgement of the superior sets by the nationally recognized set designer Bob Phillips is in order. The sets perfectly evoke the 1940 period nicely enhancing the ​overall ​enjoyment of Harvey.​

​Other key production contributors are: Julia Sharp​ (costumes), Lee Kinney (sound), Ed Matthews (lighting). The stage manager is Danielle Constance.

The CSC's production of Harvey is a charmer, pure fun, a treat for both the eye and ear. You have until October 19th to see Carl Wallnau's latest theater treat. This is fine professional theater with family friendly pricing just minutes from home....with the bonus of free parking.

We give director Wallnau the last word: " I think people who are familiar with the play and the movie will be delighted to see it again. Harvey the play is like Harvey the character, a good friend to have around and someone you delight in spending time with. For those who don't know the play, just sit back, relax and enjoy."

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    October 3, 2014

​Tickets for Harvey range from $25 to $27.50 with discounts for students and seniors. Every Thursday night is “Family Night,” which offers a 2-for-1 rush ticket price when purchased at the door. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There are 2 p.m. matinées on Wednesdays October 8th and October 15th.

​Tickets may be purchased online at www.centenarystageco.org, at the CSC Box Office located in the David and Carol Lackland Center at 715 Grand Ave in Hackettstown, or by calling 908-979-0900.   The Box Office is open 1-5 PM Monday through Friday, and 2 hours prior to performance times. CSC also operates a second Box Office during the season at 217 Main Street in Hackettstown open Monday through Friday 3-6 p.m.​​ 

Top photo: Steven Barron by Bob Eberle

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