By Annette Hinkle
This weekend, the Hamptons Theatre Company kicks off its 30th anniversary season with a production of “Harvey,” Mary Chase’s 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning comedy.
Which may help explain why last week, director Diana Marbury was running around like crazy hunting down a seemingly random list of unrelated items.
“I’m looking for Zippo lighters and a 1940s chair — it can be older than the 1940s, just not newer,” explained Ms. Marbury who, after nearly 30 years of association with HTC, freely admits to having several “starring sofas” in her home of various styles.
“My house is very eclectic,” she confides.
Chalk it up to another day in the life of a small town community theater company —one in which all involved jump in to do what it takes to get the job done — including the play’s director, for whom it isn’t unusual to be scouring the area for props.
“We all wear so many hats in the theater, it’s such a small group of people who make this happen,” says Ms. Marbury, who is also HTC’s artistic director. “It’s a miracle really.”
When HTC began, it was a community theater without a real home. Instead, productions were presented wherever space could be found. These days, the HTC is the resident theater at the Quogue Community Hall and the company now produces five shows between October and June. Because of its commitment to the community, the company has developed a loyal following and audiences appreciates the fact that HTC sticks around long after the summer folks flee for the winter.
“When we’re coming to the end of one show, we’re auditioning for the next,” says Ms. Marbury. “With the instant gratification people get these days through channel surfing, theater has fallen a bit by the wayside for many people. We’ve been very fortunate because the theater, as it stands today, has a great group of supporters who come to see every show.”
If live theater is the antithesis to on-demand entertainment, then as a play, in many respects “Harvey” is similarly a throwback to simpler times.
“We thought this play was appropriate for the 30th season because it’s a wonderful classic,” says Ms. Marbury. “People are familiar mainly with the movie version, but plays are just so more intimate than film. People feel more of a connection in theater than film.”
“This is a very appealing play because it has such wonderful characters in it,” explains Ms. Marbury. “The basic story is very endearing and touching.”
The play tells the story of Elwood P. Dowd (played in this production by Matthew Conlon) a good natured, but somewhat eccentric man whose constant companion is an invisible six-foot rabbit named “Harvey” which, in Celtic mythology, is what would be referred to as pooka, something like a spirit animal.
“The idea is that you have this being watching over you and letting you know what’s happening next and how it affects the various people around you,” explains Ms. Marbury. “Elwood is kind of an everyman character. He’s very simplistic. He can never have too many friends and is very open to people. This spirit of Harvey has opened people up to him in terms of acceptance and makes people curious and open to discovery.”
As a result, Harvey becomes a devise used by Elwood to test the character of the people he encounters. Those willing to indulge Elwood’s fantasy by accepting the existence of Harvey prove themselves as empathetic and compassion beings. But one individual definitely not amused by the presence of Harvey is Elwood’s own sister Veta (played by Pamela Kern). She worries that Elwood’s over-active imagination will scare away potential suitors for her daughter Myrtle Mae (played by Amanda Griemsmann). As a result, Veta seeks to have her brother committed.
“‘Harvey’ is a test of sorts,” notes Ms. Marbury. “Watching the effects of Harvey on all the various people Elwood encounters is fascinating. There’s this wonderful spirit of being able to be free and not so be so based in reality all the time.”
The play comes to a head at the sanitarium where Elwood is taken to be “cured” of his rabbit delusions. When the medical professionals assure Veta they can make Elwood “normal” with a simple injection, Veta realizes that Elwood, even with his delusional flaws, is at heart a far better human being than most of those whom society would label normal. It’s an endearing message of love and acceptance that Ms. Marbury thinks the audience will appreciate.
“It’s a very warm human story and very simple,” she says. “It’s not a big body farce, it’s a kind of feel good play that warms the heart and brings a big smile to your face. Hopefully there will also be a lot of good laughs.”
Hampton Theatre Company’s production of “Harvey” runs October 23 to November 9 at the Quogue Community Hall, 125 Jessup Avenue. Shows are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. The Hampton Theatre Company offers special dinner and theater packages in collaboration with the Southampton, Westhampton Beach, Hampton Bays and Quogue libraries. Tickets are $25 ($10 students). Visit hamptontheatre.org for tickets or more information or call OvationTix at 1-866-811-4111.
The cast also includes John Kern, Sebastian Marbury, Krista Kurtzberg, Russell Weisenbacher, John J. Steele, Jr., Doug O’Connor, Catherine Maloney and Martha Kelly. Set design is by Sean Marbury with lighting design by Sebastian Paczynski and costumes by Teresa Lebrun.