Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Dog's Life"

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note: entire contents copyright 1996 by Beverly Creasey

A dog's life
at New Rep

by Beverly Creasey

They say that every dog has his day. A.R. Gurney's feisty animal companion, Sylvia, is getting lots of exercise in her four week run at The New Repertory Theatre in Newton. "Sylvia" is Gurney's paean, albeit a comical one, to his own beloved dog. Gurney's alter ego, Greg, is smitten the minute he sets eyes on the rambunctious pup. Greg's wife is another story.

"Sylvia" is a play about seduction and devotion, about the connection we pet owners feel with our precious sentient beings and about the connection they feel with us. Gurney's Sylvia speaks English ... and why not, most animals understand it. She is portrayed by an actress --- not a dog or an actor dressed as a dog. Gurney is making a point about how "human" our animals seem. Gurney gives Sylvia free reign to express her human characteristics, filtered of course through a doggie brain. It's a simple, straightforward and very funny perspective and Gurney makes the most of it. Come to think of it, the human beings in the play are pretty bizarre, as well.

Greg (Richard McElvain) tailors his life to this adorable mutt (Eva Kaminsky) which only infuriates his wife (Sheila Stasack). To McElvain's and director Judy Braha's credit, we're in total sympathy with the man. He's gone overboard, but who wouldn't when Kaminsky tilts her charming little head, craving a scratch behind the ears. Stasack keeps the wife from becoming the enemy by showing us her exasperation with the situation. The pooch knows who will let her up on the couch and who won't.

Gurney keeps the farce going by introducing us to various eccentric secondary characters --- like Tom, the macho canine "expert" who expounds on the unfortunate atrophy of our primal instincts; or Phyllis, the couple's socialite friend who likes liquor a whole lot more than she likes dogs; or Leslie, the shrink, who looks like a cross between Gertrude Stein and Dr. Strangelove, who allows patients to select a gender for her/him to become. All the above are played to the hilt by chameleon Chloe Leamon. Director Braha keeps the comedy right on the edge so that it veers occasionally but never goes over the top.

Sarah Sulivan's scenic design includes a picture frame onto which cartoon graphics are projected, just to remind us this is all in fun. Catie McCool's spunky costumes for Sylvia range from sexy hot-pants to a trendu torn tee emblazoned with William Wegman's famous Fay. Derek Holbrook's sound design for the spontaneous songs --- like an Edith Piaf phrase for part-Lab, part-French Poodle Sylvia --- makes her glow. The whole evening glows. If you've ever had a dog, then "Sylvia" is for you.

"Sylvia" (till 16 February)
54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLANDS

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide