Even if you had no clue that A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia is about a dog, it would take roughly 15 seconds from lights-up to discern that Maribeth McCarthy’s character in the current Towne Players of Garner production is, indeed, a dog. Her high-energy portrayal is that accurate and that intense. You would also very quickly learn that the dog’s name is Sylvia; and you would intuit, just as quickly, that Sylvia is madly in love with (and fiercely loyal to) her new human, Greg (played with aplomb by Jim O’Brien), who returns her affection in equal measure (or, perhaps, even more).
Similarly, within moments of her entrance, Greg’s wife Kate (played surehandedly by Leslie Dahlin) leaves no doubt about her lack of enthusiasm about adding this new-found stray dog to their household.
But wait — there are six characters in this play. Tim Stancil delivers amusing portrayals of the remaining three: Tom: a man whom Greg meets in the dog park; Phyllis: a woman friend of Kate’s who shares Kate’s aversion to the presence of a dog; and Leslie: a man? A woman? All we really know is that Leslie is a therapist who is supposed to be helping iron out the problems of this couple that has suddenly become a threesome. There are hints of stereotyping in all three of these characters, but that is part of what makes them fun.
The show starts itself off with a bang; and under Beth Honeycutt’s direction, the tempo never lags. Preshow and between-the-scenes music keeps us on-track with the dog-and-owner theme. And a quick tip of the hat to Beth and Scott Honeycutt for scenic and lighting design: the set is simple yet perfectly appropriate — we move seamlessly from the apartment to the dog park and back.
The script is packed with laughs, and the delivery is smooth. Sight gags also abound. However, the strength of this show is in the development of the characters.
Anyone who has ever needed a dog will appreciate Jim O’Brien’s thorough (yet masterfully understated) portrayal of Greg. Similarly, anyone who has ever been blindsided by a potentially life-changing event will empathize with Leslie Dahlin’s Kate.
As we have come to expect from A.R. Gurney, however, the laughter and the empathizing are only the beginning. Gurney’s script, along with the actors’ fleshing-out of the characters, gives us touchstones into the understanding of such basic concepts as love, ambition, midlife crisis, and longing for meaning in life. It also deals with the subject of loyalty to family, to career and, ultimately, to self. This list could go on. However, it is worth noting that none of these themes are dealt with in a heavyhanded manner (which is yet another credit to the script and the performance). Sylvia is entertaining and engaging.
NOTE: For more information about this show, click here and here. Click here for a video preview. To purchase tickets, click here.
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.