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April 27, 2004 > Sylvia


Theatre Review by Christopher Cobb

To say that "Sylvia" is a story of a man and his dog would only be scratching the surface.

However, if one wants to see a case study for animal lovers everywhere, then this A.R. Gurney comedy is for you, because the bond between man and pet is only the beginning.

In fact, the bond established by Manhattan career man Greg and stray dog Sylvia at the onset of the play begins to overtake his entire life. To his wife Kate, the canine infatuation changes from midlife crisis to total obsession, and in discussion with both her friend and her therapist, feels her bond of marriage to Greg beginning to unravel.

The strongest part of Gurney's script is the writing. Lynne McIntosh, who plays Kate, does a thorough job channeling the nuances of the material. All at once she is a wife jilted by not another woman, but her husbands' pet - but, by the way she talks about it, one wouldn't be able to tell. There is a certain tragedy to what she is saying, but the farcical target of her poison keeps the subject from getting too heavy. As a result, Kate's dilemma sneaks up on you and remains unshakable.

For the most part, her husband Greg (John Tiedemann) remains amiss to his crumbling life, but stronger choices from the actor would probably help clarify his objectives to the audience.

Director Karen S. Leonard keeps the show open to one of the strengths of Gurney's script: the almost encyclopedic references to feminist, primal and psychological mythologies as potential remedies for Greg's problem. To the greater question of long term love and relationships, each offer promise, but inevitably create more questions than they can answer. The conundrum diverts the audience from pondering the show's greatest weakness: Sylvia can talk?

John Lathbury serves triple duty portraying a fellow dog park enthusiast, a lady-friend of Kate and a sexually androgynous shrink. While this is not the first time Lathbury has appeared in drag for a Stage 1 production, and almost certainly not the last, he does a great job creating separate identities for each role. In a way, Lathbury's position in the piece is the most significant, since he is responsible for covering the gender spectrum and all it presupposes.

Yet it is Marissa Harrington who captures the audience from the beginning. As the title role, she exudes charm as the poodle-mutt and her enthusiasm keeps everything she does and says fresh. Carrying a show on all fours is not easy, but Harrington manages well.

For those who don't understand how a person can love a pet - dog or otherwise - "Sylvia" should be required viewing. However, "Sylvia" is probably as much a joy, if not more, for those who do.

Stage 1 Theatre presents: "Sylvia"
4/23-5/15 Fri. & Sat. 8:00 p.m.
5/2 & 5/9 Sun. 2:30 p.m.

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