SYLVIA
        Sierra Madre Playhouse
        Reviewed by Jose Ruiz

For those who want the New Year to “enter laughing” have we got a play for you! More fun than a barrel full of puppies, the Sierra Madre Playhouse is presenting Sylvia, the story of a man and his dog. Usually there is not much that is funny about a man and a dog, but A. R. Gurney’s story looks at the little details in a canine/human relationship and expands them to the highest level of absurdity, resulting in a scandalous comic tumble sure to tickle everybody’s tummy.

 
Sylvia is a stray dog brought home by Greg (Stephen Howard) who is beginning a downward slide in his job taking him squarely into the tunnel of midlife crisis. His wife Kate, (Cathy Arden) on the other hand is just entering a new career phase teaching Shakespeare to inner city youths. Clearly each one is traveling in a path opposite the other and bringing Sylvia into the apartment is a lot like bringing another woman into the house.

You know right away what you’re in for when Greg first brings the dog into the house and says “Sit Sylvia”. But Sylvia is too excited about the new surroundings and runs around the furniture finally saying to Greg, “I think you’re god!” Greg tries to maintain order by saying "Stay, Sylvia. Stay. And sit!” Sylvia doesn’t.

Cathy Arden - Tanna Frederick - Stephen Howard
 
After that, we soon get used to the delightful conversations that Gurney has ascribed to Sylvia and Greg.  Anyone who has ever had a dog will understand why Sylvia says the things she says and acts the way she does. When Kate objects to the dog, every one can equally understand why. There’s the walking, the feeding, the annoying cleaning of stray hair and fur and when we get to hear the conversations between Kate and Sylvia they’re almost like a wife challenging a mistress, only funnier. One thing is clear – Kate wants Sylvia out of the apartment at any cost.

Time goes by and Greg gets more and more involved with Sylvia while Kate gets more distant from Greg and it becomes clear that this story is really about a troubled marriage disguised as a “man and dog” tale. However, Director Gita Donovan doesn’t let this conflict get melodramatic and brings in Frank Dooley who is absolutely great as Tom, a fellow dog lover who meets Greg at the doggie park, but is better as Phyllis, a matronly friend who tries to give Kate advice and later as Leslie, a shrink who deliberately dresses and acts in non gender identifiable way, allowing the clients to decide for themselves which gender they prefer to deal with. Leslie’s advice to Kate and Greg doesn’t help their marriage, but it certainly makes the audience laugh.

As Sylvia, Tanna Frederick takes a huge bite out of this juicy role even if she only had two weeks to learn the lines and learn to be a dog. Frederick is nothing short of terrific capturing some of the quirkiest moves of a dog and giving them some human touches that keep the audience in stitches. Her costuming is brilliant, starting out scruffy and as Greg becomes more infatuated with her, dressing more like a prissy ballerina poodle than a stray. Every scene ends with laughter, even as the plot seems to move to the inevitable ending. Even when it takes a couple of down turns, the fun is always at a high level and there is even a poignant song (Every Time we Say Goodbye I Die a Little) cleverly choreographed so that the three principals get to sing parts of it. Yes, Sylvia sings too.

Stephen Howard - Frank Dooley
If you’re a dog lover you will absolutely go nuts over this play. If you don’t like dogs, this could change your mind, and if you’re strictly a cat person, there is one scene that will knock your socks off. Anyway you slice it, this is one play that you can sink your teeth into with a theme and a plot that you can chew on long after the final curtain.

Four Paws up!

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