Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Rabbit and The Passport


I have to get a new passport, my current one runs out next month. That means I got the old passport in March of 1996. Which means it's ten years since I had to get the passport before that one renewed so I could get on a plane and go to Vancouver and spend a week in a church community room with a group of actors who were preparing to film my adaptation of Mary Chase's "Harvey" to be directed by George Schaffer.

I was sick as a dog through most of the rehearsal process and had to go home two days into the shooting, with the chant, "Please God, let me die in my own country." I had a cold.

But it was one of the handful of unalloyed good experiences I've ever had and some of the purest confirmation that what I was doing with my life was what I was supposed to be doing.

I'd always loved "Harvey." It's one of the things that made me want to be a writer, particularly a dramatist, although I wasn't aware of what it was doing to me at the time.

I'd seen George Schaffer's live television production, I'd seen the movie countless times, I'd seen the 1968 tour with Jimmy Stewart and Helen Hayes. It is a kind play. It is a gentle play. It's also damn funny. I learned about the peaceful way of life from zen master Elwood and he has stayed with me always.

In the early nineties I was asked about writing a new film version of the play and I jumped at the chance. I didn't want to update the play or improve it or put my stamp on it, I just wanted to participate. I wanted to repay a debt.

So, after a fairly normal, unnecessarily complicated development process, I had a script I was very happy with. I felt I was doing a form of emotional restoration, bringing the reality of the play into sync with my memories of it. I cleaned it like a well designed, but occasional neglected clock, polished it, replaced only those parts necessary to make it run smoothly. Then, when no one was looking, I wrote my name on the inside of the cabinet so that I would be a part of this fine thing.

CBS decided to make the movie and we all went up to Vancouver. Harry Anderson to play Elwood, Swoozie Kurtz to play Vita, Leslie Neilsen to play Dr. Chummley. And it was glorious.

I'm exceptionally proud of the film we made. CBS felt otherwise. They let the picture sit on the shelf for three years before running it with no promotion in the dead of summer in 1999. That was disappointing, but it really didn't matter. I'd repaid the debt and had one of the best experiences I've ever had on a production of anything I've ever written. "Harvey" has always been generous to me, and I'd not only gotten the chance to pay the rabbit back, but to collect even more unexpected gifts in the process.

The film shows up on cable and last year, for no discernible reason, my "Harvey" came out on DVD. And it looks better than ever. You can buy a copy for something like nine bucks or rent it at Netflix.

All this ten years ago. When I had to get my passport renewed. Which I have to do again. Which is why I was reminded how good a time I had. That's one of the sneaky ways in which Pookas work.

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