Beckwith Theatre production of Broadway classic debuts Friday

Actors with the Beckwith Theatre Company’s upcoming production of classic Broadway comedy “Harvey” held their first dress rehearsal at the theater Tuesday night. Elwood Dowd (Jack Gannon) introduces Mrs. Chauvenet (Mary Ann Bengtsson) to his invisible 6-foot rabbit friend, Harvey. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Actors with the Beckwith Theatre Company’s upcoming production of classic Broadway comedy “Harvey” held their first dress rehearsal at the theater Tuesday night. Elwood Dowd (Jack Gannon) introduces Mrs. Chauvenet (Mary Ann Bengtsson) to his invisible 6-foot rabbit friend, Harvey. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

While the focus on the story on stage focuses on a man and his imaginary best friend, the cast of the Beckwith Theatre Company’s first play of the season is looking to generate some real laughter from audiences beginning this Friday.

The community theater opens the 2016 season this weekend with the premiere of its production of classic Broadway comedy “Harvey.” The show runs through the next two weekends, April 1-3 and April 8-10, with show times at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

The screwball comedy, written by American playwright Mary Chase, focuses on the exploits of Elwood P. Dowd, an affable yet somewhat eccentric man who is followed everywhere by his best friend Harvey — an imaginary 6-foot rabbit. Fed up with his habit of introducing everyone he meets to his invisible friend, Elwood’s sister, Veta, attempts to have him committed to the sanitarium — an attempt that doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Originally premiering on Broadway in 1944, the Pulitzer-award winning play was adapted into a motion picture in 1958, starring James Stewart as Elwood. The movie went on to become a beloved classic among many film fans, said Jack Gannon, director of the Beckwith production

“The play is written in a very amusing and light hearted way,” Gannon said. “But it also gets audiences thinking about what is important in life, and how they want to live their own lives.”

Gannon, who also plays Elwood onstage, leads an 11-person cast comprised mainly of Beckwith mainstays, many of who have worked with Gannon on previous productions, including several Agatha Christie murder mysteries, the director said.

While he has directed several comedic shows in the past, this particular script stands out to Gannon due to a stronger focus on the interplay between characters, he said.

“It depends more on how strongly the actors have developed their characters, and how relatable they are to audiences,” Gannon said.

Being the first production of the season, the production ran into several weather related set backs over the past 10 weeks, along with some casting changes along the way, Gannon said.

Joining the familiar faces on stage is Beckwith newcomer Jennifer Shoemaker, who plays Nurse Kelly, one of the workers at the sanitarium. The Niles woman, who has acted in plays in Elkhart and in the Chicago area, has changed roles three times throughout the production cycle due to casting changes, she said.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s also been a lot of fun,” Shoemaker said, adding she wants to continue participating in future Beckwith shows.

Tickets for the show cost $10; people can place reservations by calling 269-782-7653.

The theater will also be offering free glasses of wine, courtesy of 12 Corners Winery, on opening night Friday.

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