Review: Harvey at St. Paul VI Catholic High School

By Sean Gillen, Oakton High School

After the tumultuous, trying events over the course of the past year, St. Paul VI Catholic High School’s theater department sought to provide a pleasant, perky production to bring boisterous buffoonery back to the stage. For this endeavor, they chose to perform the uplifting and uproarious classic comedy, Harvey. 

Mary Chase’s timeless tale of hair-raising hijinks won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944, using heart and humor to earn acclaim and attention in a male-dominated field. Set in the same era in which it was written, Harvey follows the family of Elwood P. Dowd as they cope with and attempt to cure his friendship with a 6-foot-tall white rabbit that remains unseen to the rest of the characters. As his sister Veta and her daughter Myrtle Mae Simmons attempt to get Elwood institutionalized, Veta herself is mistakenly processed into the sanatorium, naturally leading to ensuing hilarity and heartfelt moments.

Integral to any successful staging of Harvey is the apt portrayal of the childlike charisma of the main character, Elwood P. Dowd. As Elwood, leading man Ben Philippart, perfectly embodied the atypical affability of the best friend to the titular “pooka.” Philippart’s ability and attention to detail involved the inclusion of Harvey in all his mannerisms on stage, opening doors, procuring seats, and making offhand remarks all to and for his imaginary best friend, ensured that not only his presence, but Harvey’s as well, were felt. Additionally engaging and entertaining were his sister and niece, Veta Louise Simmons and Myrtle Mae Simmons, portrayed respectively by Mary Hitchcock and Camdyn Tyler. Hitchcock’s performance as the high-strung sister to Elwood as well as Tyler’s sharp delivery of the biting barbs, the beleaguered Myrtle Mae tossed around coalesced with Philippart’s powerful portrayal to comprise a unique, moving depiction of the family at the heart of the play.

Backstage, the theatre department’s masterful management of the technical aspects of the show ensured the production was captivating and charming. Specifically, Anna Gallagher, Jack Duren, and Hayden Springer demonstrated their technical dexterity through lighting choices and transitions that were both precise and purposeful. The selection of pink, warmer hues to emphasize Elwood’s presence on stage helped convey how his childlike innocence and pleasant nature proved infectious to his fellow characters. 

Fully able to capture the endearing, rabid whimsicality of the original, St. Paul VI’s production of Harvey combined profound heart with constant hilarity in an entrancing and enticing comedy.

[This review of the Nov. 20 performance of Harvey at St. Paul VI Catholic School is part of a series published in a partnership between Loudoun Now and The Cappies, a writing and awards program that trains high school theater and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders.]

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