Harvey: A Review Sunday, Jul 8 2012 

While in NYC last month, PJ and I saw Harvey, starring Jim Parsons and Jessica Hecht. In fact, one of the reasons we went to New York was to see this play. I remember seeing it as a kid — my parents love old black and white movies, and I was interested in seeing it on the stage. Plus, I love The Big Bang Theory, and, now that Jim Parsons is officially out, I really wanted to see him live too.

Harvey is about an eccentric man, Elwood P. Dowd, played by Parsons, who is friends with a six-foot tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. Elwood explains to various people he meets that Harvey is a pooka, a mischievous sprite who plays tricks on people.

Elwood’s sister and niece, who live with him in the family’s ancestral home, have had enough of Elwood’s behavior. Embarrassed one too many times by his introduction of his invisible friend to their acquaintances, Veta, played by Hecht, and Myrtle Mae, played by Tracee Chimo, decide to commit Elwood to the local insane asylum. When Veta takes Elwood to the asylum, however, a comedy of errors ensues as the junior, too self-assured young doctor mistakes Veta for the patient. The rest of the play involves sorting out who does and who does not belong in the hospital, with the play’s climax revolving around a new drug that can make sure Elwood never sees Harvey again.

Parsons is good in this role, but it’s not really much of a stretch for him. Elwood is a slightly differently eccentric take on Sheldon, his character on The Big Bang Theory. The part doesn’t call for anything else, so it’s clear why Parsons would be cast in the role, but it will be interesting to see if he’s able to break out of the Sheldon mold for his future forays onto Broadway and film. His supporting role in the movie version of The Normal Heart might be a good indication of his career after TBBT.

The play also features Carol Kane in a small, but hilarious role as the senior physician’s dotty wife. But the real star of this production is the set design, which is superb. Both the Dowd house and the hospital are realistically portrayed and realized. It’s clear to see why the Emmy winning designer, David Rockwell, has garnered Tony and Drama Desk nominations in recent years.

All in all, this is a good, solid production of a classic mid-twentieth century play. It’s good, family entertainment, and audience members of all ages seemed to enjoy it. I’ve decided to teach Mary Chase’s play in my class in the fall. It will be interesting to see what my students make of it!

Gore Vidal’s The Best Man: A Review Sunday, Jul 8 2012 

Last month, PJ and I spent three-and-a-half days in New York City for his birthday. While there we saw three shows, the first of which was Gore Vidal’s The Best Man. I almost went to see this play when I was in the city in April, but decided to see End of the Rainbow instead. I’m glad I waited, since I think PJ enjoyed this one more than he would have enjoyed Rainbow.

The appeal of the play, at least in part, was its all-star cast, which included James Earl Jones, Candice Bergen, Eric McCormack, John Larroquette, and Angela Lansbury. We couldn’t pass up a chance to see all of these actors together.

The Best Man is a political drama. Set at a major party’s presidential nominating convention in Philadelphia in 1960, the play follows the two major candidates for the nomination: William Russell, played by Larroquette, and Joseph Cantwell, played by McCormack, and their wives and political consultants. Russell is the former Secretary of State and the more progressive of the two candidates. Cantwell is a conservative senator who is an up-and-comer in the party. When Cantwell threatens to reveal damaging information about Russell to the convention goers, Russell must decide how to respond: release even more damaging information about Cantwell or try to take the high road, even if it means losing the nomination.

What stands out about this play is how timely it remains. Many of the issues it raises about politics are still true today. It asks whether winning is more important than remaining ethical and what are the consequences of playing dirty. It’s an interesting and insightful look into the political sphere.

Larroquette and McCormack are both excellent in their respective roles. Somewhat surprisingly, it was Jones who received a Tony nomination for Best Actor for his role as the former president. His isn’t really a leading role, and Jones doesn’t do anything spectacular with it — he’s just solidly good. Candice Bergen is excellent as Russell’s wife, from whom he is estranged but who is playing the part of a good wife for appearances sake. Slowly, she becomes the moral center of the play, and PJ and I both thought Bergin stood out in a quiet, but emotionally moving sort of way. And finally, Lansbury plays a small, but key role as one of the leaders of the women’s caucus of the party convention. Fancying herself as a king-maker, she plays both sides of the contest, ready to assume an influential role with whoever wins the nomination.

Overall, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man is an interesting look at politics that remains pertinent to today’s political gamesmanship. The final resolution is a bit predictable, and I thought the consequences for the Russells’ marriage was not really credible, but I liked it nevertheless. It’s been extended a couple of times, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a smart play about politics and its moral/ethical decline.