‘Harvey’ is a whimsical charmer

Elwood P. Dowd (Michael Pulliam) straightens the tie of his invisible friend, Harvey, as his sister Veta (at right, Beth Garrow), and niece, Myrtle Mae (Hana Valle), look on in disbelief. • Jack Grace Photo

“My mother used to say to me: ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh-so-smart or oh-so-pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”

Those words, uttered by the guileless Elwood P. Dowd, sum up Maui OnStage’s heartwarming production of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comedic play, “Harvey,” which runs through Oct. 15 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku.

Michael Pulliam shines as the ever-affable Dowd, who has an imaginary (or is he?) best friend: a six-foot, one-and-a-half-inch tall invisible white rabbit named Harvey. Harvey is a pooka, a benevolent but mischievous creature of Celtic folklore that “appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one.”

Elwood introduces Harvey to everyone he meets — much to the horror of his image-conscious sister, Veta Louise Simmons (played by Beth Garrow) and her soon-to-be spinster daughter, Myrtle Mae (played by Hana Valle). Veta and Myrtle Mae decide that the only way to salvage their family’s reputation is to have an unsuspecting Elwood committed to the local sanitarium. But when Veta confesses that she, too, has seen the giant rabbit, she winds up being committed instead — a mix-up that unleashes a comical chain of events.

As the frazzled, wild-eyed Veta, Garrow delivers some of the biggest laughs of the night. Bennett Cale also scores plenty of laughs as the self-important sanitarium director, Dr. William R. Chumley, while Ross Young shows off his considerable physical comedy chops as Duane Wilson, the sanitarium’s strong-arm orderly.

Michael A. Harrell (from left), Shyela Stephens and Michael Pulliam star in Maui OnStage’s production of “Harvey,” which runs through Oct. 15, at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. • JACK GRACE photo

Shyela Stephens, a newcomer to Maui OnStage, brings warmth to the role of Ruth Kelly, the sanitarium’s sympathetic head nurse. Rounding out the cast are Michael A. Harrell as the flirtatious associate psychiatrist Dr. Lyman Sanderson; Marsi Smith as Dr. Chumley’s socialite wife, Betty; Scott M. Smith as family friend Judge Omar Gaffney; Cindy Reeves as “Aunt” Ethel Chauvenet; V. Wolfe Young as disgruntled cabbie E.J. Lofgren; and Faith Harding as Miss Johnson.

Stage lighting and some “theater magic” add extra charm to the production, and Caro Walker’s functional set design is both eye-catching and nostalgia-inducing. The same can be said for the handiwork of costume designer Vicki Nelson, who created the 1940s-inspired costumes.

Ably directed by Dale Button, “Harvey” is a sweetly endearing, light-hearted comedy that explores the themes of individuality, kindness and compassion.

Maui OnStage’s production of “Harvey” is appropriate for audience members of all ages.

* Performances take place at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from $20 to $40. To purchase tickets for “Harvey” call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.