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'Harvey' to open tonight at Paul Bunyan Playhouse

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Only one man can see and hear Harvey, but as Bruce Hyde recreates the classic role of Elwood P. Dowd, the audiences will be convinced the giant rabbit is real.

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"Harvey," a 1944 Broadway comedy, followed by a 1950 movie starring James Stewart, revolves around Dowd, a man who believes people can be smart or pleasant -- he chooses to be pleasant. Dowd is a nice man with a drinking problem and an imaginary friend. At least, most of the other characters in the play start out thinking Harvey is a symptom of Dowd's derangement.

"He's right 'round the bend. Crazy, he is," said Karen Wiese-Thompson, who plays Dowd's sister, Veta Louise Simmons. Her aim is to have her brother committed to Chumley's Rest. Dr. Chumley also works toward that end.

The set at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse is divided with Simmons' home at stage right and Chumley's Rest at stage left.

"It's amazing what they can do in 48 hours," said Zach Curtis, artistic director. "'Wait Until Dark' was here 48 hours ago."

Curtis said he has tried to produce "Harvey" in the Twin Cities, but he could never obtain the rights to the play. He said a New York City group is sitting on the rights with the idea of producing "Harvey" some day.

"Mike Tangen (advisor to the Playhouse board) called whoever is holding it and said, 'We're a small theater 250 miles north of any place it's going to tour," Curtis said.

That telephone call convinced the people holding "Harvey" to waive the restrictions for Bemidji.

Hyde said a challenge of playing opposite an invisible rabbit is knowing where he is and not looking in the wrong direction.

"I've been playing the rabbit in rehearsals," Curtis said.

"I love this play," Hyde said. "I've seen the movie so many times my performance is an homage to Jimmy Stewart."

The two professional leading actors have not worked in Bemidji before. Hyde said he came for the previous play and was impressed with the Chief Theatre acoustics.

Four local amateur actors also have parts in the play. Ernie Rall is Judge Gaffney; Sarah Einerson is Mrs. Chumley; Nick Johnson is the cab driver and Vicki Stenerson is Aunt Ethel.

"It's very nice working with professional actors if you're an amateur because you learn a lot from them," Stenerson said. "They give you a lot of pointers."

"Harvey opens at 8 p.m. tonight. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $12 for youth 18 and younger and are available at 751-7270 or at paulbunyanplayhouse.com.

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