By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Harvey, a genial, old-fashioned comedy, is currently providing gentle, old-fashioned entertainment at the Walnut Street Theatre. There are lots of wink/wink, nudge/nudge sexual innuendos, while the tiptop cast made up of some of Philadelphia's favorite actors—all masters of the double-take—is hamming it up under Bob Carlton's broad direction.
The play, recently revived on Broadway with Jim Parsons, is best remembered in the 1950 film version starring Jimmy Stewart, a role currently being played by Ben Dibble. This central character, Elwood P. Dowd, is a wholesome, sunny-natured man; men like him, women like him, everybody likes him and he likes everybody.
He relishes "golden moments" and smiling strangers, and delights in knowing that "I've wrestled with reality all my life, and I'm happy to say I've won out over it." The playwright, Mary Chase, clearly believed that the stern reality of most people's lives is overrated, since Elwood's best friend is Harvey, an invisible six-foot-tall rabbit.
Having an imaginary friend has earned Elwood the reputation of being "the biggest screwball in town," ruining the social life of his sister (Mary Martello) and her daughter (Ellie Mooney). They decide to have him committed to a psychiatric sanitarium; Dr. Sanderson (the excellent Ian Merrill Peakes) and his boss, Dr. Chumley (Greg Wood) presiding. Their nurse (Lauren Sowa) has the play's most cogent line: "Some people see things that other people can't see at all." This enduring truth is at the core of the play's theme. The danger is in the doctors' wish to medicate people into ordinary, cranky, unimaginative versions of themselves.
Elwood's attitude is catching; pretty soon other people are seeing this "pooka" (a mythological spirit that takes the form of a very large animal) and seem to be the happier for it. Almost everybody, it turns out, could do with a Harvey.
The sets, designed by Robert Koharchik, are sumptuous.
Walnut St. Theater, 9th & Walnut Sts., Through March 6. Tickets $20-85. Information: WalnutStreetTheatre.org or 215-574-3550