"Sylvia" at Long Wharf Theatre thru March 14
By Tom Nissley
It's not often that an actor plays the role of a dog on stage. I can recall Gene Wilder in a special performance at the Westport Playhouse, who did it beautifully in a short skit. I think it was part of a gala. I remember it because he did it so well.
But in Gurney's "Sylvia," now playing at Long Wharf, we are treated to a whole play that centers on a scruffy half-breed by the same name, played by Erica Sullivan. She scratches, sits, begs (demands), and pouts with vigor. And she talks. Her talking may be metaphorical, but the audience and for that matter her new owner, Greg (John Procaccino) and his wife Kate (Karen Ziemba), understand what she is metaphorically barking about.
Greg and Kate were at a remarkably settled place in life. Their children grown and gone; Kate has mastered a new career. Greg's job as an analyst was secure, until suddenly it was not secure. Greg stroked his self-pity by walking in the park, and there he found and quickly adopted Sylvia. A diversion, by Kate's thinking, they did not need: She did not want. The playwright set up a triangle with two females fighting for the devotion of one male, and Greg, not really wanting to hurt Kate, nevertheless chooses to adore Sylvia, which suits the little canine just fine.
Another actor, Jacob Ming-Trent, plays separate cameo roles of a dog owner in the park, a haughty lady who is offended by and scared of Sylvia, and a therapist trying to be helpful to Kate. The modern townhouse set by Frank Alberino works nicely, and Eric Ting's direction brings the play vibrantly into century 21, which some Gurney fans may question.
It's a relevant piece when so many friends are looking for work and of course the theme of dog ownership can hardly be considered esoteric. I challenge you not to find three lines that could have been spoken - may have been spoken - by you in the past month. In other words, go for it.
Tickets and information at www.longwharf.org.
Tom Nissley is a well-known realtor in New Canaan, and a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. He has reviewed plays and music events that expand the quality of life in Connecticut for 25 years, and he's also available, of course, to consult with you about real estate.