Sunday, May 7, 2017


Wife vs pet in funny JTC season closer Sylvia

If you share your space with a pet, chances are you talk to the little critter. (Oh, go on, admit it!) You're probably convinced your pet understands what you say (even if he chooses not to respond), and that you can tell what he's thinking.

But you never have an actual conversation with your pet, in which each of you speaks and responds to the other. Not unless you're in the play, Sylvia. In this 1995 comedy by prolific playwright A. R. Gurney about a man, a woman, and a dog, everybody talks to the dog — and the dog talks back.

A new production of Sylvia is the crowd-pleasing final offering of Jewel Theatre Company's 2016-17 season. The show is literally back by popular demand: it was a huge hit when it was first produced at JTC in 2009, and has been much-requested ever since. For this reprise edition, director Diana Torres Koss has assembled the original four-person cast, and they make the most of every syllable of Gurney's funny script.

Greg (Shaun Carroll), who works in the financial industry, comes home from the park one day with a stray dog called Sylvia (Julie James), an excitable, overly-affectionate lab-poodle mix — to the dismay of Greg's wife, Kate (Diahanna Davidson). 

James and Carroll: smitten
 With their children out of the nest, Greg and Kate have just relocated to an apartment in New York City from the suburbs. Kate is eager to pursue her new career teaching Shakespeare to inner-city kids. But Greg is facing a midlife crisis, fractious with his boss over a job he hates.

At this stage of her life, Kate doesn't want the responsibilities of a dog. But Greg gets unlimited support from Sylvia; they adore each other, and Kate starts to feel like the third wheel.

Sylvia is not meant to be a magically talking dog, like a canine Mr. Ed. It may be that we're simply witnessing the personality that Greg and/or Kate project onto her onstage, as their marriage is tested. But James has a high old time in the role emulating doggy behavior. She scratches, she sniffs, she leaps into Greg's arms shrieking "I love you!"

Grooming brings out her inner French Poodle
When nervous or excited, her "bark" is staccato cries of "Hey! Hey! Hey!" And when Sylvia spies a cat in the park and goes ballistic, James is hilarious, lunging and spewing verbal invective.

The more anthropomorphic the part becomes, the funnier James is, strutting like Kate Moss after her first trip to the groomer, or turning coy and trampy when Sylvia comes into heat. She's abetted in these transitions by B. Modern's sly costumes; she dresses Sylvia in overalls and high-tops when she's homeless in the park, with increasing use of black leather, lace, and heels, as the dog comes into her own.

Carroll and Davidson are great as the couple caught up in this unlikely ménage a trois. And J. T. Holstrom is  a riot in his three roles: a macho guy in the park giving Greg tips on canine psychology; a snooty female friend of Kate's who suffers the business end of Sylvia's curiosity; and an ineffectual marriage counselor of indeterminate gender.

I didn't actually buy it toward the end when Sylvia, the dog, lectures Kate about what love is. But I didn't care by then, since the show is so entertaining.

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