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Deptford High takes “Harvey” on stage next week

This is the story of a perfect gentleman and his best friend, a invisible six-foot tall white rabbit, a relationship that causes embarrassment within his family, a case of misidentification when they attempt to commit the man to a sanitarium, and, well, a story of hilarity and mayhem.

If this sounds familiar, than you have probably seen or read some form of the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy by Mary Chase called “Harvey.” It was even adapted to a film starring Jimmy Stewart nearly 70 years ago.

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This week you can see the classic story of Elwood P. Dowd and his invisible pooka, Harvey, at Deptford Township High School as it is the production of the drama department’s 16th annual fall play.

The first of three nights of shows takes place on Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

“It was time to do something like this, a traditional comedy,” said Peter Mosiondz, who has taught in the English department at Deptford Township High School for 20 years and has been the drama director since 2001.

“We haven’t had a woman playwright in years, that’s also very cool,” Mosiondz continued. “Usually it’s a lot of men writing plays. Also there’s a message of kindness, generosity, innocence – the things that you could argue are lacking these days in American discourse. So I thought it’d be helpful for the kids to work on something focusing on those ideas. We can work on all the dramatic mad stuff next year. I felt like was a good change of pace.”

Deptford Township High School players and stage managers hard at work less than two weeks before their theatrical performance of “Harvey.” (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

The cast of players and stage crew have been at work on “Harvey” for two months. At a recent rehearsal, about a week and a half before first curtain, the energy was palpable as students ran through their lines and stage directions.

“A little nervous, but it’s going to be fun,” senior Isaac Hilton said. “It’s teamwork, we’re all working together to reach a common goal, performing in front of all of these people, showing them all of the work we’ve put forth in the last couple of months.”

Although Hilton is a senior, this is his first high school play. He was in Mosiondz’s acting class and decided it was something worth trying out before he departed Deptford.

“I decided that I liked it and that I wanted to pursue, so I just went with it,” said Hilton, who is playing the role of Dr. Lyman Sanderson. “It means a lot to be on stage and perform in front of people. It means a big deal.”

On the other end of the spectrum is freshman Eugene Lutz, a theater kid who came into high school with some experience.

“I did two (shows) in middle school,” Lutz said. “And when I was 10, I went on a tour with Debbie Allen and a few other guys and did a play, it was more dancing and singing. This is my first high school play. … When I was in drama club in middle school and we’d come to watch the plays on field trips, so I was really excited to get here ”

Lutz is playing Dr. William R. Chumley, the doctor in charge at the sanitarium.

“I’m the boss,” Lutz said proudly. “I run the whole sanitarium part, I like the idea of that.”

Sophomore Kaylee Helwig is playing the role of Ruth Kelly, a nurse. Like Lutz, Helwig got the bug for theater productions as a kid.

“In fourth grade I watched ‘West Side Story’ and I kind of liked the idea of musicals and plays,” she said. “I feel like everyone has gotten a lot closer as we’ve worked on this.”

The parts were cast for “Harvey” nearly two months before the show, so the student players have been at work for nearly eight weeks. After the three-night show wraps on Saturday, Nov. 17, the Deptford theater department and its students enjoy a brief break over Thanksgiving before this school year’s spring musical production, “The Little Mermaid” begins in earnest with casting prior to the Christmas holiday.

“So it’s 10 months of busy, busy, busy,” said Mosiondz, a Highland High School graduate who worked on five shows a year during his own high school career.

Deptford Township high school students Alexandrea Manalo and Gianna Wolfe rehearse a scene from “Harvey,” which begins a three-night run at the school on Nov. 15. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

Mosiondz, who also worked for two years as the drama director at Woodbury High School, enjoys bringing variety to the stage during a student’s four-year run through high school. Going back to 2003, when they performed Neil Simon’s “The Good Doctor,” the drama department has run the gamut through Shakespearean classics like “Much Ado About Nothing” to American classics such as “Our Town,” to the more modern, avant-garde shows like “Clybourne Park.”

“I’m trying to give them a mixture … we’re trying to hit all of the stuff that helps,” Mosiondz said. “The experiences that they get from working these shows, instead of these unknown playwrights that write plays for middle school kids, I’d rather steer clear of them. This is where they’re going to learn more. You want it to be educational and entertaining.”

“Harvey” begins at Deptford Township High School at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15 and continues each of the next two nights, too. General admission: $5. Students (with school IDs) and seniors: $3. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Ryan is a veteran journalist of 20 years. He’s worked at the Courier-Post, Philadelphia Daily News, Delaware County Daily Times, primarily as a sportswriter, and is currently a sports editor at Newspaper Media Group and an adjunct journalism instructor at Rowan University.

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