Alley Theatre Proves There's More to Harvey Than Meets the Eye

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Hair Balls has always been partial to people who don't quite fit into the world in traditional ways.

So we jumped at the chance to talk with actor James Black, who is tackling the classic role of the well-intentioned and idiosyncratic Elwood P. Dowd in the upcoming production of Harvey at the Alley Theatre.

Hair Balls wanted to know what it's like to play opposite a six-foot-plus tall invisible rabbit and maintain your own integrity and believability.

Hair Balls: Have you ever played Elwood P. Dowd before?

James Black: This is the second production of Harvey I've been a part of, but it's my first time playing Elwood.

HB: How do you play against an invisible rabbit? What are the limitations? The fun parts?
JB: Technically, it's been trickier than I had expected. The biggest challenge is staying consistent with a giant invisible bunny's correct eye line. We've pulled out tape measures  (he stands 6 foot one and a half), and had assistant stage managers walk around holding a cardboard rabbit head taped to the end of a broomstick. But the more we work on the play, the more defined he becomes for me. I'm a little worried.

HB: Did you ever have any invisible friends growing up?
JB: As a young child, I suffered complications from a severe bout of measles. According to my parents, during a fever-induced night of hallucinations, an imaginary boy named Gabby appeared to me. The fever passed and Gabby stayed for about six months.

HB: Why do you think Dowd is such an enduring character?
JB: Elwood P. Dowd is a quintessential American fictional character, as recognizable and enduring as a Huck Finn or an Atticus Finch. He's an outcast and a dreamer, who's amiable and friendly to all he encounters. He'll minister to any who need to talk, in bars, firehouses or asylum waiting rooms.

HB: Harvey was written so very long ago (a 1944 play by Mary Chase, a 1950 Jimmy Stewart movie). Do you think audiences now have an easier or harder time imagining an invisible six-foot rabbit could be real?
JB: I think the theme of what is normal is just as relevant today as when the play premiered.

HB: So many high school and college troupes have done Harvey, some of them alas not that well. What does a professional group like the Alley bring to it that should make people want to see this play?
JB: Theater audiences who are familiar with just the film are in for a treat. Its much more a classic ensemble piece along the lines of You Can't Take it With You, rather then the star-centric vehicle the motion picture became. Yet it's still wonderfully moving.

Harvey begins performances Friday, April 16, opens officially Wednesday, April 21 and runs through Sunday, May 9 on the Hubbard Stage at the Alley. Tickets to Harvey start at $21. All tickets to Harvey are available for purchase at www.alleytheatre.org, at the Alley Theatre Box Office, 615 Texas Avenue, or by calling 713.220.5700.

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