The cast of Sylvia. From L to R: Kylee Silvas as Sylvia, Larry Evans as Greg, Tony Hefner as Phyllis, and Shana Fisher as Kate. Photo by David Leone
If your dog could talk, what would it say? More importantly, what would it say about you? Actually, our dogs say a lot about us already, or at least that’s the theory posited by Forest Moon Theater’s production of Sylvia, written by A.R. Gurney.
The show, under the direction of Mike McGee, is all about how dogs can help their owners through some rough spots and perhaps even help them discover the natural instincts they’ve been neglecting. Of course, in this show, though, there’s no dog onstage, at least not a real one. The dog here, the title character, is portrayed instead by Kylee Silvas, and yes, she can and does talk.
Set in Manhattan, the story focuses on what happens when an empty-nest couple, Kate (Shana Fisher) and Greg (Larry Evans), bring home Sylvia. Actually, it’s Greg that does the “bringing home,” and Kate who resents him for it. Greg, who is struggling at work and going through a midlife crisis of sorts, is delighted to find Sylvia in the park one day, and he allows her to take over his life, as dogs so often do. He falls in love with Sylvia, creating problems in his marriage in the process.
Photo by David Leone
Evans is wonderful in his role as Greg, a man who is questioning everything in his life. His lighthearted delivery and his genuine, believable affection toward Sylvia make Greg an easy character to root for. Likewise, Fisher offers just the right touch of brusqueness (with kindness underneath) to make Kate understandable...though dog lovers may find her disdain for Sylvia a little hard to take.
Of course, the real star of the show is Sylvia herself. Silvas, bedecked with everything from fuzzy sweaters to puffy, poodle hair, gives an energized performance as the title dog. She sniffs, scratches, runs, and crawls her way through the two act play, displaying a great gift for physical humor and keeping the audience laughing throughout. However, she is not the only comedic gem to be found here.
The play also features one more cast member, Tony Hefner, who shows up as Tom, Greg’s friend from the dog park; Phyllis, Kate’s uppity friend; and Leslie, a gender-neutral marriage counselor. Hefner delivers in each of these roles, making every funny line stand out and somehow always managing to be believable as each new character. Stellar costuming and hair and makeup really help with the believable part, especially in Hefner’s turn as Phyllis.
McGee directs this show and his actors with obvious heart and great attention to detail. Nice touches, like a pet slideshow before the show begins and a character covertly reading a book called How to Speak Dog, make this production just a little more intricate and a little more likeable than others, proving, just as the script does, that, sometimes, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
Sprinkled with appropriate Shakespeare quotes and plenty of smart jokes that you’ll miss if you aren’t listening carefully, Gurney’s script is enjoyable and engaging from start to finish. And, aside from all the humor, it is ultimately a story of love and of how one marriage grew a whole lot stronger with a little help from a special dog.
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