Invisible Rabbits and Declining Memory
We’re returning to familiar ground, this time the stage at Frederick Community College’s Jack Kussmaul Theater. This column, if you bother to go back through the decades-long history, occasionally touches upon the theme of community theater in Frederick.
It’s a theory advanced in earlier columns: auditioning for a role in live theatrical production every few years forces one to exercise a portion of the human brain that doesn’t get sufficiently exercised otherwise. Memorizing lines and movement, making them available for instant recall when needed, helps maintain the memory. This skill can then be translated into remembering names, faces, companies and tidbits about relative strangers that help form a stronger interpersonal bond.
Everyone likes to be remembered! The issue is advancing age. It used to be much easier to memorize lines. Now it’s a very difficult task, requiring previously unknown levels of concentration.
This time around the show is Harvey. Written in the 1940’s by playwright Mary Chase, Harvey tells the story of a lovable gent named Elwood P. Dowd, an otherwise normal guy whose singular distinction is that he sees a six-foot-tall, white rabbit that no one else can see.
The great Jimmy Stewart played Elwood, both on Broadway and in the 1950 film. In fact, Mr. Stewart received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor portraying Elwood Dowd. Movie buffs still consider this one of his best performances. Those are big shoes to fill for an amateur actor!
As with past productions of The Fredericktowne Players (FtP), the success of a particular show starts with the vision of the director. Unlike the cult classic Waiting for Guffman, a hilarious mockumentary directed by Christopher Guest, community theater directors pull together all aspects of a show, from casting the players to envisioning the set design. They spend months before a show putting the parts together in their mind, waiting for the moment to bring it all to the stage.
For FtP’s Harvey, director Sarah Marusich fills that role with humor, creativity and patience. Sarah still laughs at the funny lines, in spite of the fact that she’s heard the same lines repeated dozens of times, in exactly the same way. I can only imagine the stress of carrying the success of an entire production on one’s shoulders, but Sarah handles that burden with true grace.
The other cast members are incredibly talented and are developing their characters as living, breathing personalities, who pick up the show and move it along – each in their own way. Every single cast member plays an important role, and they all perform at a very professional level. It’s easy to marvel at their work, night after night, as they find their character’s voice. FtP President Matthew Bannister, a member of the cast, has done a wonderful job of leading FtP during a challenging time.
The story of Harvey, while crafted in the ’40s, resonates today. We can all relate to the guy who marches to his own drumbeat, happily disconnected from reality. In Elwood Dowd’s case, that disconnected reality includes his best friend, a six-foot-tall rabbit that no one else can see…or can they?
Elwood’s sister and niece live with him in the family mansion, and the social ladder-climbing efforts of his sister and her daughter are directly impacted by his relationship with his invisible friend. They attempt to have Elwood institutionalized, and that effort backfires in unpredictable ways.
Set in two locations, the Dowd Mansion and Chumley’s Rest, a residential mental treatment facility, the set design is simple and efficient.
There are lots of live theatrical opportunities available to the public, yet FtP continues a rich tradition of family-friendly and reasonably affordable productions. Talented volunteers have spent hours putting it together, this weekend the whole mess moves over to the Kussmaul Auditorium.
A week of “tech” rehearsals culminate in the thrill of opening night on Friday, January 30.
Harvey runs January 30, 31 and February 6 and 7 at 8 P.M. There’s a 2 P.M. matinee on February 8th.
You can buy tickets to see the show at www.fredericktowneplayers.org.