SYLVIA is a Real Dog From Texas Rep

Jen Lucy & Bradley Winkler PHOTO: by Larry Lipton & Douglas Kreitz

Don’t let that title scare you, but SYLVIA is very much a real dog in Texas Repertory
Theatre’s
current production of A.R. Gurney’s quite unusual and thoroughly amusing play of the same name. The original production opened in the spring of 1995 at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage One and ran for 167 performances with a cast that included Sarah Jessica Parker, Blythe Danner, and Charles Kimbrough. This edition features crisp and clever direction from director, Steven Fenley, and the fun gets underway immediately on the art-deco flavored set of Trey Otis depicting an attractive Manhattan apartment backed by the soaring Empire State Building, city skyline, and a bit of Central Park on the side, all with fine lighting from designer, Eric Marsh, and occasional pleasant musical interludes of guitar jazz and snatches of “Rhapsody in Blue.” The apartment is home to a Wall Street currency trader named Greg (a convincing performance from Bradley Winkler), and his English teacher wife, Kate (more fine acting from Karen Schlag). The young couple seems pretty happy, notwithstanding Greg’s general dissatisfaction with his work (and his boss) on the trading floor. But life takes a difficult turn when the “other woman” enters the picture, and in this hilarious case, the other woman is a dog!

You see, Greg found the stray dog in the park, and as they seemed to hit it off with each other, he decided to adopt Sylvia and bring her home. They become “man and his best friend” immediately, but perhaps it is best that I offer a caution here. You see Sylvia is played very much as a person more than a dog. That task has fallen to talented actress, Jen Lucy. She does not wear a dog suit. This is not Nana from Peter Pan. Not by a long shot! With dirty blue jeans and tie-dyed tee shirt, Miss Lucy’s character of Sylvia arrives looking like she popped out of a rehearsal for the Broadway show, Hair. For some, the unreasonableness of a human-like dog and its master dialoguing with one another throughout the play could be a roadblock to full enjoyment of the piece. Of course most of us have probably talked to a dog at one time or another. But when the dog keeps talking
back things can get pretty funny, especially when the wife is unaware of what is being said. For those willing to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours, you could be in for a rollicking good time. It is all carried off quite well.

Kate tries to be patient and she really likes dogs, “when they belong to other people.” But Kate’s temperature is rising. She calls the dog “Saliva” as this new invader takes over her home chewing her shoes, urinating on carpets, nesting on the lovely white upholstered furniture, and barking wildly (“Hey! Hey! Hey, Hey, Hey!”) whenever guests arrive. And guests do arrive in the person of actor, Alan Hall, who skillfully plays three roles in the piece:

Tom, Greg’s park acquaintance and fellow dog owner full of sage advice and such book
recommendations as, “Your Pooch & Your Partner.”

Phyllis, Kate’s wealthy and very upper-class old friend, comically done in drag                  (costumes by Nathan Estrada) as a grand dame who is totally horrified while visiting as
Sylvia charges after her barking, “Nice crotch! Nice crotch!”

— And Leslie, an androgynous marriage counselor who might be a man, but might be a woman (“I let my patients select my gender.”), and finally throws up his/her hands in despair that this dog & master relationship is just too problematic for the marriage to be saved. But is it?

Can a planned trip to England save the day? Can Sylvia handle her fist experience of being “in heat?” Will a litter of puppies intercede? Can the dog get along well with a cat? Will Sylvia be turned over to a suburban family? For the answers to these and other mirth-filled questions, why not take this amusing trip to Fantasyland without relying on Disney? You won’t be sorry.

SYLVIA continues this week at Texas Repertory Theatre, Northwoods Plaza,
14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., Houston, with performances Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday night at 8pm, as well as a Sunday matinee at 3pm. For tickets and information
call 281-583-7573, or visit the website at http://www.TexRepTheatre.org

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
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