Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Sylvia"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2002 by Tony Annicone

"Sylvia"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Newport Playhouse's latest show is A. R. Gurney's, "Sylvia". It is the male viewpoint of a man's midlife crisis. Gurney uses a female dog as a metaphor for the other woman in this man's life. The love and affection of this female dog helps him to escape from a nagging, jealous wife. The talking dog helps the man cope with his problems and eventually brings the couple together by show's end. Add another actor playing three different roles to this trio and you have Mr. Gurney's solution on marital problems.

Director Rob Reimer who last appeared in "When The Cat's Away" at the playhouse, chooses a black box set with real branches on the upstage wall and two brown clothed boxes to symbolize a sofa/park bench and a chair.(The set was constructed by general manager, Vinny Micucci.) The branches remain there constantly whether the action takes place inside or out giving it an avant garde touch. Most of the humor in the show comes from the relationship between Greg and his talking dog, Sylvia as well as their meetings with another dog owner, a female friend of the couple and their therapist. Kate, the wife is the listener and supposed victim of this talking dog, making her role more serious than the others. She becomes the straightman of this play, who spouts quotes from Shakespeare at the close of some the scenes. (Kate is a Shakespeare teacher in an inner city school in NYC.) When Sylvia returns Kate's copy of "Alls Well That Ends Well", the dog tells the wife how to fix her marriage, letting the title of the returned book come true for this show, too.

Talented newcomer, Elena Sloop gives a tour de force performance as the loveable, talking dog, Sylvia. She uses a Brooklyn accent and keeps her hair up in two pigtails in her portrayal. Elena hits all the laugh lines perfectly and her rubbing up against the female friend of the couple is hilarious. The dog in heat scene where she finally gets laid by Bowzer is well executed, too. She runs around in a frenzy of excitement and makes all the right moves. Elena is a very talented girl with a great future in the theatre. Although she has performed in various other places previously, her debut performance at the playhouse is another feather in her cap.

The biggest scene stealer in this show is Michael Johnson. He portrays three different characters and adds a special sparkle and comedic touch to them all. Michael, first plays Tom, the owner of Bowzer who tells Greg how female dogs behave. His second role is as Phyllis, an old friend of Kate's from Vassar. This is Michael's best role. He is dressed as a woman in a bright orange skirt and vest with a blond wig. His reactions as Phyllis have to be seen to be believed. He cringes at the sight of the dog, has girl talk with Kate about Phyllis' husband's pet goldfish and has the best facial expressions when the dog jumps up and scratches herself on the dress. Michael's third role is as the couple's therapist, Leslie who can be either a man or a woman, depending on who his patient chooses him to be. Bravo on an excellent comic performance.

The role of the middle aged husband is played by veteran actor, Felix Stanley. He handles the huge role with ease. The relationship between the dog owner and his pet is very believeable due to Felix's line delivery to Sylvia at the beginning of the show. It helps the audience understand this different kind of a storyline. He also handles the scenes with his wife and Michael's other personas very well. Felix's warmth and genuiness in playing this kind and loving man who finally is accepted by his wife, comes through and he has the audience rooting for a happy ending for him. Playing the nagging wife, Kate, is Lisa Reimer, who last appeared in "When The Cat's Away". She plays the shrewish parts as well as the poignant ones in a very convincing manner. Lisa makes the audience's eyes fill up during the airport scene with the song "Everytime We Say Goodbye" when she has to leave her husband at home. She and Felix also tug at your heartstrings when they explain things at the end of the show.

Producer Matt Siravo makes the evening a success with a delicious, all you can eat buffet before the show prepeared by expert chef, Rhedd Hawley, and an entertaining cabaret after it. This new cabaret, directed by Wayne Alan Hawkins and musically directed by Kyle Medeiros, contains numerous songs as well as colorful clown costumes and the gorgeous, "Cats" outfits that will dazzle you. Also an original beauty salon segment will leave you in stiches, too. So for a fun filled evening of food, show, song and dance, be sure to head to the Newport Playhouse. You better hurry because tickets are selling very quickly.

"Sylvia" (till 2 June)
NEWPORT PLAYHOUSE
104 Connell Highway, NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
1 (401) 848-7529

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