Sylvia @ Stray Dog Theatre

Sylvia @ Stray Dog Theatre


A dog played by a young woman creates much
of the amusement in A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia. Greg is a middle-aged man obviously going
through a midlife crisis. He dislikes his job and his boss. His marriage is OK but, after 22 years, routine. On a break from the office he goes to the
park. He befriends a stray dog. She has a tag around her neck that says Sylvia
and nothing else. She likes him, and he likes that, and her. He takes her home. His wife Kate, a teacher, does not like Sylvia. With their children now grown and gone, she
doesn’t want to be burdened with anyone or anything to care for, to cripple their social
life and travels. But for Greg, it’s too late. Sylvia fills a need. She gives him the attention and affection
that he’s missing. They bond. Sylvia knows how to manipulate Greg to keep
him interested. She is, in a way, the younger woman a man
in midlife crisis might have an affair with. But that is not what Greg needs. He still has the woman he needs in his wife. But the dog gives him something else – though,
as another dog owner he meets while taking Sylvia to the park explains, a wife might
see the two in much the same way. And Kate does. She wants to get rid of Sylvia. When a friend comes to visit, all Kate can
do is complain about Sylvia and Greg. Kate and Greg go for couples counseling. The counselor is also a troubled person, troubled,
even, by Sylvia. When Kate gets a grant to study for six months
in England, where Sylvia would be quarantined, something has to give. And it does. Tim Naegelin makes Greg a really nice, confused
guy who cannot see why he can’t have both Sylvia and Kate or why Kate should be upset
about it. And he always treats Sylvia like she’s a dog. Kay Love’s Kate does, too, but in quite a
different way. She doesn’t like what this is doing to their
marriage or to her. Melisa Harlow plays three characters. She’s most convincing as Tom, the fellow dog
owner in the park. She gets the gender uncertainty of the marriage
counselor. She goes way over the top as the friend who
visits. Susie Lawrence finds all the right moves to
make Sylvia always a dog, even when she talks like a person, and she doesn’t need the smudge
of black makeup on her nose. Her devotion to Greg is total. She tries to win over Kate, fails, and determines
to defeat her. Her string of profanity when she and Greg
encounter a cat on a walk astounds Greg. So does her attraction to Tom’s dog Bowser. Sylvia is the key to the delights Gurney embeds
in his play, and Lawrence unlocks them all. Miles Bledsoe’s set smoothly changes from
apartment to park, with Tyler Duenow’s lights. Director Gary F. Bell also designed the costumes,
with amusing touches for Sylvia and for Harlow’s three characters. I enjoyed seeing Sylvia again.

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