This three-act comedy follows the frustrated attempts of society matron Veta Louise Simmons to keep the eccentricities of her brother, Elwood P. Dowd, from public view. Elwood drinks and keeps introducing strangers to a companion whom no one else can see: a six-foot-one-and-a-half-inch-tall rabbit named Harvey. Veta’s daughter Myrtle Mae worries that her Uncle Elwood’s preoccupation with Harvey will scare away any marriage prospects for her. In the opening scene the guest of honor at a piano recital hosted by Veta is frightened away when Elwood tries to introduce her to Harvey. This incident is the last straw for Veta. In the next scene she visits Chumley’s Rest, a sanatorium for mental patients, and asks to have her brother Elwood committed. As Veta gives the information to the head nurse, Ruth Kelly, it becomes clear that Kelly is interested in Dr. Sanderson, the new assistant to Dr. Chumley. As Veta becomes more and more agitated in describing the effect that “living with Harvey” has had on her nerves, Dr. Sanderson begins to suspect that Veta’s attempt to commit Elwood is just a cover-up for her own psychosis. He orders Veta restrained and apologizes to Elwood for what he now thinks is his blunder. The fact that Elwood really does claim to see Harvey is comically suspended, as his attempts to introduce the rabbit to the psychiatrist are continually interrupted.
When Elwood leaves, Kelly’s romantic interest in Dr. Sanderson begins to unravel. Elwood’s charm and polite attention to her contrast sharply with Sanderson’s professional aloofness. In retaliation, Kelly disavows any interest in Sanderson. When Dr. Chumley arrives and finds a hat...
(The entire section is 684 words.)