KAINALIU — Gregg Mowins’ big break on the stage has come opposite a 6-foot-tall, invisible rabbit.
Mowins’ previous acting credits are from high school and college productions, and it’s been years since he has found himself in the spotlight. After arriving on the Big Island in February, after living in Sweden for 20 years, he was ready for a triumphant return with the help of an imaginary friend.
The actor makes his debut on the Big Island stage this weekend as the lead character of Elwood P. Dowd in Aloha Theatre’s production of “Harvey.”
“We are in a time where there is a lot of trouble in the world, and there’s something about the sweetness and the humanity of the play, that in one way can be read as old fashioned, but the values that are in it are timeless,” Mowins said. “It’s a great little vitamin or little pill for us in a time where the world can be very complicated.”
“Harvey” premieres 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Aloha Theatre and runs three weekends through May 19. The Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, written by Mary Chase in 1944, tells the story of Elwood and his friend Harvey, the invisible rabbit only he can see.
“I think the thing that I really appreciate in (Elwood), and the thing I relate to him, is he is a real dreamer. He’s a guy who believes in things that you can’t always see,” Mowins said. “He looks for and finds the best in everyone around him. And I can really appreciate that in him, it makes him fun and warm to play.”
Directed by Jerry Tracy, the play stars Mowins as Elwood, Liz Spencer as Myrtle Mae Simmons, Kerry Matsumoto as Veta Louise Simmons, Barbara Masters as Ethel Chauvenet, Amanda Trusty as Ruth Kelly, Rob Payesko as Duane Wilson, Matthew Bester as Lyman Sanderson, John Holliday as William R. Chumley, Robin O’Hara as Betty Chumley, John Sucke as Judge Omar Gaffney, and Yasir Bey as E.J. Lofgren.
The play was also turned into a famous movie in 1950, starring Jimmy Stewart as Elwood.
“I think it’s better than the movie,” Masters said of the production. “We all rented the movie, and I’ve seen the movie a 100 times, and I think the play is definitely better.”
Unlike lead actor Mowins, actors Masters and Matsumoto are veterans of the Aloha Theatre stage, and they know what’s going to capture the audience’s attention.
“A lot of people our age are very familiar with Harvey, the 6-foot invisible rabbit,” Matsumoto said. “I’m hoping everyone comes, because it’s just going to be fun. It’s just going to be a blast. I think it’s going to be a surprise hit.”
Bester, who plays the psychiatrist Dr. Sanderson, is also new to the Aloha Theatre stage. After working as an usher last season at the theatre, Bester felt the call to audition. He, too, has nostalgia for “Harvey.”
“I have really good memories with the movie and my dad, it was one of his favorite movies and we watched it when I was a kid, so I had good memories attached to it,” Bester said.
“I’ve been in audiences before, and I didn’t know the work that goes into a play, and now I do. I also can’t wait for it to start.”
The costumes and set for “Harvey” call back to the 1940s, when it was first written, but the cast is confident that the play itself is timeless.
“The tone of the play is kind of amazing. What Mary Chase did is she wrote something in the 1940s about a borderline mental illness,” Sucke said of the play’s plot and themes. “If you think about all the changes that we have had in the way that we deal with the concept of mental illness from the 1940s to now, you think, how can someone from the 1940s have something on stage now and it not be embarrassing? But she wrote in such a way that it’s wistful and it’s not harming.”
“In the 1940s, what was going on in the world was World War II. This play was set in California in the 1940s and there’s no mention of the war,” he added “It was originally written as an escape, and that’s how it serves today. A wonderful, fantasy, wistful, funny escape.”
Info: Tickets to “Harvey” at the Aloha Theatre are $22/$20/$10 and can be purchased at apachawaii.org. The play premieres Friday with 7:30 p.m. showings Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. showings Sunday through May 19.