Directing a play about an invisible 61/2-foot-tall rabbit has presented Toni Murray with some challenges. The first was deciding whether Harvey the rabbit would actually exist or whether he would be a figment of eccentric Elwood's imagination in the world of "Harvey," opening tonight at Olympia Little Theatre.
Good news for those who believe in magic: He’s real.
“Elwood sees an invisible rabbit,” Murray said. “It’s his best friend, kind of like little kids have best friends who are invisible. He also has a drinking problem. I was thinking, ‘Is the rabbit a real manifestation, a magical creature, or is it a figment of his alcoholic brain?’ I reread the play a few times, and it’s pretty obvious that the author intended Harvey to be a magical entity. Stage directions called for doors to open and the sound of footsteps.”
Tom Sanders, who plays Elwood, grew up loving the 1950 Jimmy Stewart film based on Mary Chase’s play.
“You had to believe,” he said. “It made the story worth listening to.”
Elwood drinks too much, and some think he’s crazy. (His sister, in fact, is hoping to prove that he is, so she can get him out of the house.)
But his gift is to live in the moment.
“What I really like about Elwood is his ability to be present in the now,” the director said. “There’s a line in it that I think is very significant. Elwood is on the phone, and the party on the other end asks where he is, and he says: ‘Where am I? I am here.’ It gives me chills, because he’s here, right in the now.”
Alcoholism was accepted in the 1940s, when the play is set, in a way that it just isn’t these days, Murray said. And the character’s saving grace is that he’s just so darned lovable.
“He’s just the nicest guy in the world,” Sanders said. “That’s the basic approach.”
He quoted a line spoken by Elwood that for him sums up the character: “You must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. For years, I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”
Stewart’s well-known characterization followed the same basic approach, but Sanders has his own take on Elwood.
“The last thing I want to do is try to do Jimmy Stewart,” he said. “I could do that; I could even fake his voice a little bit, but that would be mocking it. I have some characteristics that are very good for the character and I just use them.”
So excited was Sanders to play Elwood that he dropped out of another production to take the role. He is remarkably suited to the role, Murray said.
“He has a twinkle in his eye and a great smile,” she said. “He does a wonderful job of capturing that childlike innocence and joy and happiness that somehow we lose when we lose the magic.”
Murray sees that magic as integral to the message of the play.
“I see several themes of different kinds of love in the story,” she said. “It’s about love and some of the magical things that can happen when love is really a part of our lives.”
What: The classic play tells the story about lovable eccentric Elwood P. Dowd and his invisible friend, Harvey, a 61/2-foot-tall white rabbit.
When: 7:55 p.m. today and Saturday, plus Oct. 28-30 and Nov. 4-6 and 11-13; 1:55 p.m. Oct. 31 and Nov. 7 and 14
Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. N.E., Olympia
Tickets: $10 for Thursday shows and $12 for weekend shows
More information: 360-786-9484 or www.olympialittletheater.org