"Harvey" production provides unique challenges for Jonesborough Repertory Theatre cast

Jonathan Roberts • May 5, 2019 at 8:01 PM

For the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre’s Lucas Schmidt, who plays Elwood P. Dowd in the upcoming play “Harvey,” the roles provide a unique challenge for him and his castmates.

“Harvey” is a comedy written by Mary Chase and directed by Pam Johnson, where Dowd insists on including his friend, Harvey, in all of his sister Veta’s social gatherings, but Harvey is an imaginary six-and-a-half-foot-tall rabbit. Veta then decides to have Elwood committed to a sanitarium, but doctors mistakenly commit her instead of Dowd, starting a frenzied and comedic search for the truth.

While the JRT’s cast is excited to perform Harvey, Schmidt and his other castmates note the difficulty in making such famous — and long-standing — roles their own, as “Harvey” has been portrayed countless times across the world since its debut in 1944.

“It adds a little pressure, iconic roles are always a little pressure (filled) and there’s always that trick; do I even try to act like the guy/girl that made it famous? Or do I just do my own thing?” Schmidt said during a rehearsal. “I think depending on the play, the answer is different.”

The role of Dowd, which was made famous by James Stewart in the 1950s, isn’t the only one that comes with that challenge either, as the JRT’s Heather Allen — who plays Nurse Kelly — noted.

“It’s harder (to stand out in plays like this) because you kind of want to make it your own character but its been done for so many years it’s a hard thing to portray as your own,” Allen said. “It’s good to have reference, but it’s harder to make it your own.”

Director Pam Johnson said the pressure for her comes from not wanting to disappoint those who come to the show, saying “we don’t want anyone to come in and say ‘well that wasn’t what I expected’ and be disappointed, but they won’t be disappointed.” Johnson also said she’s “excited” to put on the production, “because it’s such a classic.”

For Schmidt, the pressure of living up to past iterations isn’t all he has to contend with, as he notes he usually portrays villains in his performances at the Repertory Theatre.

“It’s not a role I’ve played before; typically I enjoy playing villains and (Elwood) is the exact opposite,” Schmidt said.

He also noted that while it’s not a role or type of role he frequently plays, he enjoys it because it keeps him versatile as an actor. Another, more minor, challenge he pointed to was the speech. Having been written in the 1940s, a lot of the speech and style of talking is much different than today’s style of speaking, though Schmidt said his mother was a big fan of everything 1940s so it’s not as foreign “as it might be for someone my age.”

While the trio of Schmidt, Johnson and Allen have their own reasons for excitement, all of them enjoy the comedy aspect of the play. All all three were laughing at others’ scenes during rehearsal, with Allen pointing to her character’s funny persona as a major reason why she was so excited for “Harvey.”

While script for “Harvey” more closely follows the script of the 1950 movie, most of the actors and actresses involved all want to put their own spin on their roles, albeit in a more subtle way.

The first show opens on May 10 and runs through May 26, with performances Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. General admission is $16, tickets for students and seniors are $14.

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