Fans of screwball comedy with both heart and brains will love Island ETC East End Theatre’s latest offering about a man whose best friend is not only imaginary but also a giant rabbit.

Written by Mary Chase, “Harvey” is a 1944 classic that won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie staring Jimmy Stewart. It’s a comedy of errors about a social-climbing sister who’s so exasperated with her brother and his imaginary friend that she tries to have him committed — only to be committed herself.

While some elements of this play are a trifle dated, it has a timeless message about unconditional love within families and showing empathy for people with mental illness.

Director Daniela Hart was both sensitive and screwy when she played Popeye in ETC’s production of “Miss Firecracker,” and she brings this same winning sensibility to “Harvey,” grounding the cartoonlike comedy and slapstick in moments of real human emotion.

It’s a tightrope trick of supreme balance, and she guides all her cast and crew successfully across the rope.

This production belongs to Selena Stair and Roger Stallings as a brother and sister at odds who come to embody the true meaning of unconditional love. As the embattled Veta Louise, Stair captures all of her character’s confusion, anger and fear before finally realizing her deep love for her unconventional brother. Stallings is masterful as Dowd, really putting the audience in this “crazy man’s” shoes.

You desperately want to see the rabbit for yourself, making it all the more poignant when Elwood offers to undergo drug therapy and lose his rabbit friend for the sake of his sister.

 There are fine performances from all of the cast in roles large and small. Jenny Klonizchii is funny as Veta’s daughter Murtle Mae who’ll stop at nothing to win a beau. Paul Hager is a delight as the blustery Judge Omar Gaffney and in a second role that’s yin to the judge’s yang.

Catrin Griffiths Glynn is both tart and sweet as Nurse Ruth Kelly. Her fiery courtship scenes with Jason Finch playing Doctor Sanderson create a satisfying b-story.

Cameron Dunbar was suitably scary as the overzealous orderly Wilson. As was K. Ball Withers as the overconfident Dr. Chumley. Their characters highlight the need for medical professionals to imagine themselves in the patient’s shoes from time to time. 

Finally, Jane Sledge Stoub was kicky as society wife Betty Chumley, and Bill Low was suitably spiky as the cab driver who helps Veta Louise appreciate her brother’s most lovable qualities.

Tom Boone’s set transforms from family home to sanitarium reception area like a giant pop-up book for adults. The folding and unfolding rooms attracted well-deserved applause from an appreciative audience.

Jutta Franklin’s costumes evoke a ’40s feel, thanks to the men’s natty suits and the women’s day dresses and Victory curls.

Root Choyce’s lighting featured some moody night scenes in the sanitarium as well as some warm moments of character insight. Throughout, there are also effective sound effects, utilized to add realism and help bring moments of drama to life.

“Harvey” is a fun night out at the theater that underscores the importance of unconditional love. It also reminds us we’re all a little crazy in our own way — take someone you love and laugh away any of your day’s troubles.

At a glance

WHAT: “Harvey”

WHEN: Until June 1; performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Island ETC East-End Theatre Company, 2317 Mechanic St., in Galveston

TICKETS: $27 and $22; call 888-762-3556 or www.island

Shannon Caldwell lives on Galveston Island and has been a journalist and theater reviewer for 20 years.


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