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THEATER REVIEW : Invisible 'Harvey' Pops Up for a Reprise at Dinner Theater : Ottavio's strong cast keeps the humor hopping in this tale of a boozy old man and his trusty rabbit friend.


One of theater's true perennials, Mary Chase's 50-year-old fable of a man and his six-foot invisible rabbit companion, has been dusted off this year by the crew at Ottavio's Dinner Theater. Firmly rooted in '40s consciousness, "Harvey" should nevertheless appeal to modern audiences of all ages.

Aspiring socialite Veta Louise Simmons and her daughter, Myrtle Mae, share a home with Veta Louise's brother, Elwood P. Dowd. There's considerable money about, which the women would love to spend. The problem is that the money, and the home, belong to Uncle Elwood. And he's embarrassingly batty, carrying on conversations with Harvey, a giant rabbit that only Elwood can see or hear. Veta Louise and Myrtle Mae attempt to commit Elwood to a sanitarium, and eventually everybody gets his or her comeuppance.

High society and psychiatry aren't exactly choice targets for satire in 1994: These days, people might embrace the shrink and the invisible bunny, and it's unlikely that very many would consider (as Veta Louise does) a newspaper's society columnist important--or someone you'd want to deal with, anyway. Elwood drinks entirely too much by today's standards, though nobody suggests that his problem stems from excessive boozing.

If there's a problem at all, that is. Elwood is one of the nicest people ever; he's adept at making friends, and quite generous. And it turns out that a character such as Harvey has a basis in folklore. Could it be that Elwood is more sane than he appears?

The play remains very funny, thanks here to confident performances by principal actors Eleanor Brand (Veta Louise), Gene Bernath (Dr. Chumley, head of the sanitarium) and Scott Lee, whose likable Elwood less resembles Jimmy Stewart's definitive film characterization than current TV personality Harry Anderson.

As the shallow, vain Myrtle Mae, Debi Lewis is perhaps a bit too mannered under Michael Tachco's otherwise shrewd direction; Mario Shawn Marino is capable as orderly Duane Wilson; and Bill Jones and Arnold Fadden are convincing as a junior-grade psychiatrist and judge, respectively.

Deanna Lynn Milsap appears as a friend of Veta Louise's, Gail James as a nurse, Valorie Paradise Lant as the Bernath character's wife, and Keith Jacobs as a cabbie. It's Jacobs, incidentally, who gives the program's most intriguing biographical notes, which claim that the actor ". . . is a direct descendant of George and Ira Gershwin." Further details, please!


* WHAT: "Harvey."

* WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays through Aug. 5. Additional performance July 31.

* WHERE: Ottavio's Banquet Facility, 340 Mobil Ave., Camarillo.

* COST: $25 per person, includes show, buffet dinner, nonalcoholic beverage, tax and gratuity. Open bar and wine available. Inquire about the Thursday night senior discount. Season tickets, group rates and fund-raising programs also available.

* FYI: Suitable for family audiences. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., dinner served at 7; show begins sometime after 8 p.m. For the July 31 show, doors open at 5:30. For reservations or further information, call 484-9909.

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