A funny thing happened to Greg ( Stephen Howard) after he left work early one afternoon. Greg found a stray dog, or perhaps this stray dog found him. She ran straight to him in the park. Everything about her, especially her name, seemed to tell Greg that they belonged together. According to her collar, this Heaven-send canine is named Sylvia.
Labrador-Poodle mixed Sylvia (Tanna Frederick) is also feeling the pure perfect love that dogs often have for their owners. Sylvia is happy and excited and grows to love Greg more by the second.
Kate ( Cathy Arden), Greg’s wife of twenty plus years, is not exactly feeling the love. She comes home to the bouncing ball of fur and is less than pleased. Without a hint of empty-nest syndrome, Kate has sent her children off to school and found a condo in the city with her husband. Now that the kids are gone and her life is her own again, Kate is looking forward to a much quieter, neater live which starts with her re-enter into academia. No where in her plan does she intend to include an over-grown, over-excited, furry mut.
At least at first. Because she loves Greg, she agrees to a trial period for Sylvia.
Greg takes Sylvia to be groomed, buys her pretty things and takes Sylvia for long walks about town and to the dog park so she can play with the pack. In fact, he begins to neglected his hated job by missing meetings so taking off entire afternoons in order to be with Sylvia. Soon, Greg begins to shower Sylvia with a degree of adoration that he has never showered on Kate.
It should be noted that this show felt very much like Community Theater. Most elements of this production pass, but lack real professional polish. Having said that, the audience seemed to be having great time.
I pretty much found everything to be very flat and that begins with the script. The language of the play was awkwardly presentational, as if it were written to be said, versus being written in an effort to capture a moment of spontaneous interaction between people. (I have seen that style work before, but it is not working successfully here.) The script also has the characters constantly calling each other by name – as if the audience will forget in the span of a minute. The writer intrudes on the storytelling with every clever Shakespearean button he scripts Kate to deliver at the end of her scenes.
What is most disappointing was the climax, the really meaty scene, the game-changing confrontation - that never happens. The characters of Sylvia don’t change. They pretty much stay one note until the end – with the exception of Sylvia who is required to play every note the entire play. I can’t give Kate’s character any credit for changing if I never saw her try in the first place. Why does Greg change his mind? Was it an epiphany or an ultimatum that lead him to it? We’ll never know. It never happens on stage. But that’s kinda what we’re waiting for the whole show.
Director Gita Donovan does not appear to have spent enough time exploring the possible subtleties in Sylvia. This play is s fantasy where an actress plays a dog. There are so many opportunities to explore nuances in perception and communication – between gender and between species. Unfortunately, this production uses the crutches of forced performances and predictable physical comedy. Sylvia is a very broad comedy. However, any story worth telling needs to have some weight.
Just one girl’s opinion…
Sylvia is running now through February 19, 2011 at:
Sierra Madre Playhouse
87 Sierra Madre Boulevard
Seirra Madre, CA 91024
Seniors (65+) and Students (13-17) $17.
Children 12 and under $12
Photo Credit: Lia Pearson