Two old comedic chestnuts are delighting audiences with Mary Chase's "Harvey" and Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore's "Send Me No Flowers"!

With all the dramatic heat that is available on the theater beat this week, I thought this would the perfect time to kick back and review a couple of old chestnuts, a couple of lighthearted comedies that are just plain fun, nothing that requires a great deal of deep thought, nothing that speaks to fear or controversy, just plain dumb fun. The Orinda Starlight Village Theater is producing a play I have not seen in a long time, “Send Me N Flowers”, written by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore. Then, in Castro Valley, the Chanticleers Theatre is producing Mary Chase’s perennial favorite, “Harvey”.

Orinda’s little community theater in the park, The Orinda Starlight Theatre opened a couple of weeks ago with their fun-filled production of “Send Me No Flowers”, a play probably best remembered as the 1964 movie by the same name that teamed Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall in its celluloid début. Director Norman Jewison saw this play, re-scripted as a movie, as another perfect vehicle for Hudson, Randall and Day, their third and final romantic movie grouping. Many people thought it was the best of the three movie series that included Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1962) and Send Me No Flowers (1964). Others thought it was light and full of fun lines, but not as memorable as Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back. The original stage production of Send Me No Flowers opened in December of 1960, received only lukewarm reviews and lasted for 40 performances (approximately one month). Certainly the play was not a flop, but at the same time not considered a resounding success.

It’s hard to know what turns audiences on. I have always enjoyed this “don’t cry wolf” comedy about hypochondriac George (played by Shawn Bonnington), who is constantly suffering from one imaginary illness or another. George just recently had a complete physical that pronounced him perfectly and certifiably healthy, but he woke up this morning with a pain in his chest, or perhaps it’s his upper abdomen, well, certainly somewhere in that general area. Why the uncertainty, well, he only notices the pain when he presses his hand or index finger against his body. Out of fear he might have contracted some potentially fatal disease or illness (one can never be too sure) he has called is family doctor, Ralph Morrissey (Mark Barry), asking him to immediately come by his home to investigate his new affliction. George’s lovely and patient wife, Judy (Jill Gelster) tries to assure him that it is probably nothing more than indigestion, but George is resolute in his concerns.

Dr. Morrissey does arrive at the Kimball residence and examines George Kimball and tells him that he is not ill, basically echoing Judy’s diagnosis that George probably only has indigestion. The doctor hands George a container with some medication in it and tells him to take two pills now and two more in the morning, assuring him everything will be fine. George goes off into the other room to get a glass of water and as he returns he overhears the Doctor talking to his lab on George’s telephone about a terminally ill patient’s lab tests (the same type of test George took a week earlier) that did not have a happy outcome. What is most disturbing is that the doctor concludes the conversation by telling the party on the phone that he is not going to tell the patient the bad news, voicing the opinion that since the patient’s financial affairs are all in order, the bad news would probably be more detrimental than disclosing the truth.

George assumes that he is the terminally ill patient the doctor is talking about and now believes that he has less than two weeks to live. With this disclosure fresh in his mind, George becomes greatly concerned for his wife and her future happiness, since he has always handled all of the financial matters, never even allowing her to pay a bill. In his wild imagination, he foresees his wife eventually on the street selling pencils to survive. When his neighbor Arnold (Chris Constantouros) drops by the house, George reveals this devastating news to him and they momentarily wallow in despair, until George decides the only sensible solution is to find a responsible replacement spouse for his wife, to replace him when he is gone. It just so happens that Judy’s old college beau, Bert Powers (Ken Sollazzo), is in town and has called hoping to stop by just to touch base and renew an old friendship. Over the years, Bert has become a very successful oil investor, is very wealthy, not married and as far as George is concerned, the perfect candidate.

George’s obvious prodding and promotion of activities that will keep Bert and his wife in each other’s company (without him along as he is much “too ill”) a lot, makes his wife very suspicious and she comes to the conclusion that her husband must be covering up an extramarital affair of his own. The mix up just gets funnier and funnier especially as George meets with funeral director Mr. Atkins (Barry Hunau) of the “Eternal Gardens” to purchase his final resting place, and even buys a future plot for his wife and for her “future” husband in the deal!

Director Geotty Chapple has done an excellent job of direction and selecting the cast for this show, Actors Jill Gelster (Judy) and Shawn Bonnington (George) are thoroughly delightful in their lead roles. Special kudos must go to Barry Hunau (the jovial funeral director) and Christopher Constantouros (the concerned neighbor) who practically stole the show! The cast also includes Josette Canilao as “the other woman”, Charles Guitron as “Vito” a suave pursuer of Mrs. Kimball, and Jim Fritz in a minor support role. The Sound design by Dave Dierks is really quite remarkable as well. This is a very enjoyable production, basically inexpensive ($8 for seniors and children and $16 for all others)! “Send Me No Flowers” runs Fridays and Saturdays now through August 6th, with a Thursday evening performance at 8 p.m. on August 4th.

The Orinda Starlight Village Players perform in the Orinda Community Center Park Amphitheater located at #26 Orinda Way, across the street from the Rite Aid Pharmacy and the Orinda Post Office and adjacent to the Orinda Library and Community Park. Call (925) 528-9225 or drop a line to Geotty Chapple at P.O. Box 204, Orinda, CA 94556 for additional information. Tickets can be purchased at the theater entrance. This is an amphitheater in the park, so be sure to dress in layers because it can get very chilly in Orinda if the fog bank comes over the Oakland hills into Orinda. I also recommend a folding chair or stadium seating portable cushions as the rock seating is not comfortable. The theater company provides cushions, but I prefer my own “tush” cushions.

Break out your dictionary, encyclopedia or wickipidia and look up the word "Pooka" before you read my next show review to find out what these Celtic/Irish/Welsh/Scottish fantasy spirits are all about and you will better understand one of the underlying mysteries about who and what the large white rabbit with powers to foresee the future is, in Mary Chase's "Harvey". There are many different definitions, look for the ones about the friendly shape shifters.

Another one of my favorite “old chestnut” plays is the 1940 play by Mary Chase about a six foot three inch “Pooka” called "Harvey". I will never forget the original movie version of "Harvey" in the 50’s with Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, the easy going, affable gentleman who hangs out with an apparently imaginary six foot tall white rabbit named Harvey. The Chanticleers Theater in Castro Valley opened with their production of this comic tale of eccentricity and family frustration this past weekend. This is a thoroughly delightful production that I am sure you will enjoy if you make the little drive to Castro Valley.

Elwood P. Dowd (played very well by Keith Jefferds) is a very friendly, slightly eccentric gentleman who lives with his sister, Veta Louise Simmons (Loralee Windsor) and her daughter Myrtle Mae Simmons (Dawn Cates) in a family home and is financially secure in large part do to a substantial family inheritance. Elwood wanders around town, playing cards with friends at the local fire stations, or sipping suds with friends in the local bars. Whenever he makes a new acquaintance, he hands them his personal card and introduces them to an apparently invisible friend, whom he calls Harvey. In that the imaginary friend is nothing more than a six foot, three inch rabbit, most folks have decided that Elwood is harmless, good natured, and not to be concerned about. His family, however, is quite concerned with his unusual actions and they are embarrassed by his bizarre behavior. His sister, Veta Louise and niece, Myrtle May are afraid to socialize at home and of being embarrassed again and again. Following a recent social event held by Veta Louise for her club members in her home, where Elwood wandered in and broke up the party, Veta has decided to get her family attorney , Judge Gaffney (Jerry Telfer), to assist her in having Elwood committed permanently to Chumley’s Rest Sanitarium.

However, when Vita Louise arrives at the Sanitarium with Elwood in tow, a comedy of errors ensues, with Doctor Sanderson (Charles Woodson Parker), Dr. Chumley (Peter Richman), staff assistant Duane Wilson (Bill Clemente) and nurse Ruth Kelly (Vanessa Comfort) committing Veta instead of Elwood. The mild mannered Elwood comes off as the sane one and he and his rabbit companion escape the sanitarium before the staff discovers their unfortunate mistake.

The remainder of the story revolves around everybody’s pursuit of Elwood as he makes his rounds about town. In the end, he voluntarily returns to the sanitarium where he is to be given a treatment that will change him forever. At the last minute, the taxi driver (Bill Clemente) who has been patiently waiting for his fare, barges in the sanitarium office demanding immediate payment. When he hears that “that nice man” is going to be given an “elixir of normality” by the hospital staff, his dire warning to Veta of how others have changed following the “treatment”, shakes up Vita and she begins to wonder if the “cure” will affect them more adversely, than living with Elwood in his present affable but slightly wacky condition.

The acting is really delightful all around, there are a myriad of rich characters, and the nonstop subtle humor will keep young and old alike laughing. I have always loved this play and I have to say that Loralee Windsor (Veta Louise) is really quite outstanding in her portrayal. Marsha Howard rounds out the cast as she plays Mrs. Ethyl Chauvenet and Betty Chumley. Director Eric Fraisher Hayes has done a great job with this excellent production.

"Harvey" continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinee performances at 6 p.m. (timed specifically to avoid the hottest time of the day) through August 14th. General admission tickets are only $18 each and $15 for seniors and students. You can order tickets on line at or call (510) 733-5483 for reservations and more information. The Chanticleers Theatre is located at 3683 Quail Avenue in Castro Valley Park. Check out the company website at where you will find a very good map and directions.