'Sylvia' slobbers its way into audiences' hearts
During Wolf Pack Theater's short run in Sandy, it has brought some rather out-of-the-box, quality plays to the stage. Its latest production is no different.
A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia," a comedy of canine proportions, premiered on Dec. 7 and will run until Jan. 7.
The play begins as a humorous case of a husband bringing home a new addition to the family without consulting his wife. That addition is Sylvia, a French poodle mix who found Greg (Nathan Wright) on what was just another walk in the park. But in an odd-yet-entertaining twist, Sylvia is played by a human — Melissa Jean Swenson, to be exact.
Greg's wife Kate (Erin Bass), is not happy with the arrangement, claiming her dog days are over now that they are empty-nesters living in the Big Apple.
The story soon becomes a comedy of barriers as the devotion and companionship between Sylvia and Greg deepens, the divide between Greg and Kate grows and the animosity between Kate and Sylvia threatens to ruin the couple's marriage.
"You managed to chew a major hole in a 22-year marriage," Kate says to Sylvia at one point during the show. "I feel like I'm up against something that is thousands of years old."
Besides adding greatly to the comedic effect of the play, the literal personification of Sylvia by Swenson gives the dog a voice, and lends the audience a look into the relationship of a man and his furry best friend. And after a while you stop noticing so much that Sylvia is a person. Swenson is so believably canine it's comical, and her embodiment of her character keeps the theater-goer in the timeline.
Most people — all played by actress KB Mercer — who come across Greg after his clandestine meeting with Sylvia chock the whole situation up to mental instability and mid-life crisis. But while many men Greg's age are buying Jaguars, Greg proves to be more of a dog person.
Greg does find a friend who somewhat understands his situation in Tom (KB Mercer) — a rough, tough camo-clad dog-park-goer — who sympathizes with Greg and tells him stories of relationships ended by the love between a man and his dog.
"A man and his dog is a big thing," Tom says while his dog Bowser mingles with the other dogs. "When I come home at night I have to remember to kiss my wife before saying hello to Bowser."
Needless to say, Tom's marriage doesn't last the entire play, and there is an eventual ultimatum issued by Kate — an "it's me or the dog" moment.
Luckily, Greg doesn't really end up having to choose. Kate comes around to the idea of Sylvia, realizing how much the mutt loves Greg, and she agrees to share him — at least for the next 11 years.
And, as much as dog lovers may go through most of the play hating Kate, you begin to identify with her through Bass' excellent expression and range of emotions. You can identify with basically every character on the stage, not just because the acting is top notch, but because the play depicts how much we can learn about life and about ourselves from animals.
I guess you could say this production goes to the dogs — only in the best of ways.