The stage at the Golden Chain Theatre will come alive this weekend under the direction of Dr. Richard Hoffman. Although not new to theatre, Hoffman is returning to the Golden Chain after an 18-year absence to direct the 1944 award-winning play, "Harvey."
"Harvey" will debut at 7 p.m. Saturday, followed by a 2 p.m. performance Sunday. The play will continue to run the following two weekends, April 13, 14, 20, and 21 for a total of six performances.
Director Richard Hoffman
Hoffman first got involved in the Golden Chain the summer of 1980 when he saw an advertisement that the theatre was looking for a director. At the time, Hoffman was living in Reedley and teaching at Reedley College where he started the Theater Arts Department and created a transferrable Theater Arts major. With a degree in theatre from San Diego State University, a masters in theater from Humboldt State University, Hoffman met the qualifications and was hired to be a director along with Michael Robertson.
Hoffman's first play at the Golden Chain was the melodrama, "Love Rides the Rails." A few years later, when Robertson left, Hoffman became the sole director of the theatre's plays. He remained at the theatre until the fall of 1994, ending his time there with playwright Bernard Pomerance's "Elephant Man."
Hoffman later received his doctorate in Educational Leadership from Nova-Southeastern University at Fort Lauderdale and moved to Bass Lake Heights.
After leaving the Golden Chain, Hoffman started "Spotlight Reperatory Company" in 1995, which was located in the Oakhurst Shopping Center off Crane Valley Road (426). In 1997, the company moved to the Enterprise Center and the name was changed to "Frontrow Theater Company." The theater company remained there until it closed in 2005.
Hoffman, who now teaches communication courses at State Center Community College District in Oakhurst, had put theater aside when he got a call from a former student named Jason Turner who had worked with Hoffman and his wife Candace at Frontrow Theater. Turner, now president of the Golden Chain Theatre board, asked Hoffman to come back and direct "Harvey."
"He's very meticulous and methodical, and it's just a pleasure working with someone who's so well versed in the field and he never settles for anything but the best from everyone," Turner said.
Turner was very happy with the response he received from Hoffman.
"It literally made my year when he agreed to come back after 18 years away from the theatre," Turner said. "It was a great honor for him to agree to direct the show. He demands the best from everyone working in every capacity with him and it's a pleasure working with someone like that."
Hoffman said he decided to come back for the "creative challenge" the opportunity provided him.
"I think you have an opportunity to try to create a total concept (as a director) and guide that process and I like that," Hoffman said. "I like being able to represent the playwright ethically and guide that process into an outcome that you feel is true to the author."
The play -- "Harvey"
Hoffman is directing 11 actors/actresses for "Harvey," which was written by Mary Chase. Hoffman said Chase wrote the piece as an anecdote to the stress, loss and violence of World War II.
"It became a perfect escape type comedy," Hoffman said. "It is definitely a period piece -- a classical whimsical comedy of the 1940s."
"Harvey" won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945 and the play ran for more than 1,700 performances in New York. Later, in 1950, it was made into a film starring Jimmy Stewart as the main character of the play, Elwood P. Dowd.
Hoffman said the play is very tightly written with clearly defined characters. In the Golden Chain's production, Hoffman's former student, Turner, will play Dowd and Jennifer Varner will play Dowd's sister, Veta.
Hoffman said it is Veta who really drives the play because she's trying to take charge of the wealthy family estate in Denver, Colo. Dowd, who is currently in charge of the estate, says he sees an imaginary pooka -- a six-foot rabbit from Celtic folklore -- that he calls "Harvey" and he even talks to Harvey. This is all an embarrassment to Veta and the family and Veta's daughter is having trouble meeting suitors. In order for all this to stop, Veta must get Dowd committed to a sanitarium.
"This is a comedy, really, about civility and manners and etiquette and kindness," Hoffman said. "Some of the themes are interesting, for instance looking at a person that's supposed to be crazy going up against the well defined rules of society. It raises the question of, 'Which is the nuttiest?' It's very thought provoking and has a lot of good wit in the writing and juxtaposition of thought."
Tickets cost $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for students and active military, $6 for children ages 4-12, and no charge for children under three.
Details: (559) 683-7112, goldenchaintheatre.org