Is Jim Parsons the next Jimmy Stewart? I wouldn’t have made the connection before seeing the uneven new Broadway revival of Mary Chase’s Harvey, which runs through Aug. 5 at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Studio 54. But like Stewart, the two-time Emmy-winning star of The Big Bang Theory is a rail-thin everyman who projects both intelligence and fundamental decency. He’s perfectly suited to reprise Stewart’s role from the 1950 film version of Harvey, about a seemingly ordinary guy whose best friend and constant companion is a six-foot-three-inch rabbit named Harvey that most of the world (including the audience) cannot see.
Of course, the family of that seemingly ordinary guy, Elwood P. Dowd, don’t share his wide-eyed guilelessness. Dowd’s prim sister, Veta (Jessica Hecht), is as much put out by his dinner invitations to people he’s just met as she is to his constant opening of doors for invisible lapine friends. And how will she ever find a husband for her daughter, Myrtle Mae (Tracee Chimoo), with an uncle whom most of the town regard as a nutcase? So Veta decides to commit Elwood to a sanitarium run by Dr. Chumley (Murphy Brown‘s Charles Kimbrough). Naturally, things do not go according to plan.
Alas, the same might be said of Scott Ellis’ oddly sluggish production, which lurches from scene to scene when it should be bunny-hopping briskly along. Mary Chase’s play too often feels like a dated relic, and much of the cast are ill-suited to its demands. Hecht, a strong performer in dramas like A View From the Bridge and After the Fall, seems out of her element in a more broadly comic role as an appearance-minded fussbudget. In a cameo as Chumley’s wife, Taxi‘s Carol Kane is neither grounded nor daffy enough.
The revelation here, aside from David Rockwell’s stunning revolving sets, is Parsons. After a promising but tentative Broadway debut last year in A Normal Heart, the preternaturally boyish actor commands the stage in a surprisingly offhanded way. He rivets your attention without any big gestures or look-at-me grandstanding — and without merely delivering a Jimmy Stewart impression. Instead, he captures the essence of Stewart while making an old-fashioned character seem refreshingly modern. It’s as if he’s internalized Elwood’s forthright embrace of the whimsically absurd. ”I’ve wrestled with reality most of my life,” he says at one point, in a Sheldon-like deadpan. ”I’m happy to state I’ve won out over it.” B-
(Tickets: roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300)