Pulling Harvey Out of Her Hat: The Amazing Story of Mary Coyle Chase

Limelight: Rowman & Littlefield. Oct. 2020. 184p. ISBN 9781538131688. $24.99. THEATER
It isn’t a stretch to imagine that at any given time, the play Harvey (that beloved American comedic chestnut immortalized by the 1950 film version starring Jimmy Stewart) is being produced in some professional repertory, regional, community, or school theater. We are long overdue, argues arts writer Pockross (Chicago Tribune; Denver Post), to give playwright Mary Coyle Chase (who beat out Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie for the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Drama) the serious critical attention she deserves. Chase herself frequently professed that she was “just a housewife and mother who wrote plays,” but her prodigious literary catalogue of 14 plays (including two other Broadway successes besides Harvey, three screenplays, and several award-winning children’s books) are validation that she did a lot more than pull a six-foot-tall rabbit out of her hat. Pockross illuminates key life events that would become thematic tropes in Chase’s plays and examines the social and art scene in early to late 20th-century Denver. Pockross also covers Chase’s beginnings as a “sob sister” newspaperwoman and explores her life with her husband and three sons. Harvey certainly takes center stage, but all of Chase’s literary works are covered here. This certainly will not be the last word on Mary Coyle Chase, but it’s a great opening act.
VERDICT This story of Chase (whose dream of a giant rabbit chasing a psychiatrist inspired a play about everyone’s favorite Pooka) is a must for theater geeks everywhere.
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