note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
The current production at 2nd Story Theatre, “Sylvia by A.R. Gurney is a sheer comic gem, a real delight propelled by fine acting and impeccable direction by Peg Hegnauer. “Sylvia” is a play about a stray dog found in Central Park, the couple who adopts her, and the impact is has on their life and marriage. It was written by A. R. Gurney and first produced in 1995. It was directed by John Tillinger, it opened on May 2, 1995, at Stage I of the Manhattan Theatre Club, where it ran for 167 performances. The cast included Sarah Jessica Parker, Blythe Danner, and Charles Kimbrough. The production received Drama Desk Award nominations for Outstanding Play, Outstanding Actress in a Play (Parker), and Outstanding Costume Design.
In 2007, Gurney received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist. He is best known for the plays such as “The Dining Room,” “The Cocktail Hour” and “Love Letters.”
Middle-aged, upper-middle class Greg finds Sylvia, a dog played by a human, in the park and takes a liking to her. He brings her back to the empty nest he shares with Kate. Kate however dislikes her from the moment she meets her. The couple decided that Sylvia will stay a few days, as a trial. Then they will decide if she stays longer or not. Greg as the days pass spend more and more time with Sylvia, just another reason to skip work with a job he hates. The tension builds between the couple over Sylvia as Kate tries to build her career now that her children are out of the house and Greg grows more and more dissatisfied with his job in a kind of mid-life crisis. Greg has reached a terrible point when his old job doesn't satisfy, and he doesn't know where to turn. He has lost his inner compass. Sylvia becomes crucial to his salvation.
Any dog lover will love this play.
Lara Hakeem is brilliant as Sylvia. She moves with a deft skill and appreciation for how a dogs moves. She captures the essence of a dog with flair and sensitivity. It is the presence of Sylvia onstage that gives the play its impact and effectiveness. Hakeem is simply stunning in the role.
Ed Shea is the disillusioned Greg, a man who reaches out for an animal to fill the hole deep within him over his unsatisfying job and life. Shea is a delight as the at times tortured, if comically Greg. He is thoroughly believable in his relationship with the dog, making it highly convincing and effective. He is warm and genuine in the role, making him very appealing.
Sharon Carpenter is his wife, Kate, who disapproves of Sylvia and her arrival into their lives. She points out that she has passed through that stage, now that they have moved back to the city and the children are grown the time for dogs is likewise past, more of an encumbrance than an enhancement. Carpenter is wonderful in the role, making Kate a woman who wants to get on with her life and her career which was put on hold while child rearing. It is an effective and convincing portrait of a woman trying to make up for time spent with child rearing and other duties which pulled her away from her career course. Like the others in this play, her comic timing is impeccable.
Rounding out the cast is Jim Sullivan. He plays an off beat guy at the dog park, a kind of self appointed expert on dog behavior and psychology gotten through reading books which he recommends to Greg while trying to caution him of the perils of owning a female dog with a female name and the impact it might have on his marriage. Then his is Phyllis a friend of Kate’s from Vasser, a snob and an alcoholic with dislike for Sylvia as much as Kate. Finally enter Sullivan as the therapist, Leslie who is androgynous as they come either obviously man or woman. Sullivan is hilarious in all three roles with distinctly different characters coming through in a vivid display of acting versatility and skill of a high caliber. His performances as the three characters is a sheer delight, a comic gem.
Director Peg Hegnauer delivers a well conceived and simply amazing production, loaded with fine touches throughout and a great rapport with the cast who work well together onstage.
This is one terrific show, with loads of laughs, well acted, well directed, a gem. You will love it even more if you are a dog lover as I am.