Wi­chita Com­mu­nity Theatre tries a non­tra­di­tional hol­i­day show with ‘Har­vey’

The Wichita Eagle - - Things To Do - BY DAVID BURKE Ea­gle cor­re­spon­dent

For both its di­rec­tor and lead­ing man, Wi­chita Com­mu­nity Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of “Har­vey” brings back warm feel­ings.

For di­rec­tor Mary TushGreen, it’s a re­minder of a visit to a cousin who played the part of El­wood P. Dowd, a man who be­friends the tit­u­lar un­seen, 6-foot rab­bit.

Her cousin, Char­lie Hill, was a for­mer Em­po­ria State Uni­ver­sity theater his­tory pro­fes­sor who had a pic­ture of him­self and Har­vey above his fire­place.

“I re­mem­ber ask­ing him when I was 5 or 6 years old, ‘Why do you have that por­trait of you with a rab­bit?’” she re­called.

“Oh, that’s me and Har­vey,” he replied.

“He told me what Har­vey was and I just ac­cepted it and went on my merry way,” Tush-Green added. “I ab­so­lutely ac­cept Har­vey as a liv­ing, breath­ing thing.”

For Ed Baker, play­ing El­wood is an homage to his men­tor, long­time Wi­chita State theater de­part­ment di­rec­tor Dick Wels­bacher, who played the role sev­eral times. Wels­bacher (who died at age 89 in 2015), for whom the theater at WSU is named, played the role sev­eral times, but Baker never saw him play that role.

“Now I’m kind of glad I didn’t get to see him do it, be­cause it leaves me free to do what I do,” said Baker, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and

tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor for the WSU school of per­form­ing arts. “I hope it’s OK.”

The Wi­chita Com­mu­nity Theatre pro­duc­tion, which opened this week and con­tin­ues through Dec. 9, won play­wright Mary Chase the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1944. It’s also a beloved 1950 movie star­ring Jimmy Ste­wart as El­wood. Baker has never seen the movie, and TushGreen is a fan of the film but hasn’t watched it since

agree­ing to di­rect the show.

“I tried my hard­est not to let any pre­con­ceived no­tions into what my ac­tors were do­ing,” she said. “I let them do their own thing.”

Tush-Green did stop Baker dur­ing a re­cent re­hearsal, how­ever, be­cause the ac­tor had added a Ste­wart- ish stam­mer to his de­liv­ery. “Don’t be Jimmy Ste­wart,” she told him, “do your own thing.”

Baker’s ap­pear­ance was a key to him get­ting cast, Tush-Green said. The ac­tresses picked to play El­wood’s sis­ter and niece, Theresa Dom­browski and Jerusha Lofland, re­spec­tively, bore a re­sem­blance to him.

“The three of them to­gether look like a fam­ily,” Tush-Green said.

Baker said he ap­proached the role “with a small dose of great hope and a great dose of trep­i­da­tion.” “It’s a lit­tle over­whelm­ing. It’s a lot of words,” he said. “Once you get past the words, there are a lot of feels in there. It would be easy to play a drunk fella who sees a friendly rab­bit, but I don’t think that’s what this story is. I think it’s a lot more than that.”

Baker said he sees El­wood’s story with a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive.

“There’s some­thing to be said for the way that we all ex­pe­ri­ence the world that hap­pens around us,” he said. “The world that hap­pens around us is not al­ways filled with things that we can see. I don’t think it’s a story about a man and his rab­bit, I think it’s a story about how ev­ery­body else deals with this man who has a rab­bit.”

Be­hind the scenes a great deal in his day job, Baker said he ap­pre­ci­ates any chance he can to get on stage.

“It’s a bless­ing that I get to do what I love to do,” he said.

“Har­vey” is in the hol­i­day time slot for WCT even though it takes place in the spring and Christ­mas is never men­tioned.

“We could change it, but I didn’t see any rea­son to,” Tush-Green said. “It’s a fam­ily show. You could bring smaller kids to it. … It’s some­thing the whole fam­ily can do to­gether.”

Cour­tesy photo

The Wi­chita Com­mu­nity Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of Har­vey runs through Dec. 9.

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