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 Theater Review-'Sylvia' A Real Treat At TBTA



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 Theater Review—

‘Sylvia’ A Real Treat At TBTA

By Julie Stern

BROOKFIELD — A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia gets produced frequently on local stages, which makes sense, considering how Connecticut suburbanites feel about pets. The work is a delightful tale of a marriage tested by a mid-life crisis in which a discontented salesman falls head-over-heels in love with a stray dog, just when his wife’s career is starting to take off. The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts is offering its take on this (doggie) treat for two more weekends.

Written in the early 1990s, Sylvia is an unconventional love story with an unusual triangle. After 22 years of a solidly happy marriage, Kate and Greg have sold their suburban house and moved to a Manhattan coop. Their nest is empty, the last of their kids is off to college, and Kate is finally free to pursue the career of her dreams: developing curriculums to teach Shakespeare to inner-city middle school students.

But while Kate’s middle years are a time of personal fulfillment and growth, Greg is seething. Corporate mergers and takeovers have changed the nature of his company from manufacturing and selling real products, to financial trading and speculation in “instruments” until he no longer understands what he is doing, knowing only that he hates it.

Under these conditions, Greg is ripe for the plucking and becomes infatuated with a young woman he meets in Central Park. The gimmick of the play is that the young “woman” is actually a stray dog who follows him home. The play works on two levels: Kate doesn’t want a dog. They both have full time jobs and a busy social life; an apartment is no place for a dog, and besides she just peed on the rug.

Greg grows increasingly absorbed in Sylvia, pouring his heart out to her, buying her toys and teaching her tricks, insisting she be included in every aspect of their life. This generates the slapstick comedy aspect of the play, as Kate demonstrates all sorts of bad dog behavior, chewing shoes, humping the leg of Kate’s appalled dowager friend, chasing cats.

In a more serious vein, it explores a serious emotional conflict. Kate resents the dog and her hold on Greg, so she tries various means to get rid of her. So caught up in the excitement of her own academic success, she doesn’t recognize the depth of Greg’s unhappiness. By pushing him to choose between Sylvia and herself, she is putting their marriage to a dangerous test.

Matt McQuail and Meg Jones do a fine job of capturing the nuances of this couple and their relationship, and Beth Young is over-the-top hilarious in the gender-bending combination of minor characters, from Tom, a buddy from the dog park, and Phyllis, a Vassar classmate of Kate’s, to Leslie, a hermaphroditic shrink who is nuttier than any patient could reasonably expect.

For the show to be successful, however, it requires the right young woman to play the role of Sylvia, the dog, who wears clothes and speaks our language (although the things she says are clearly translated from the canine). In Kristin Hoose, The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts has made an ideal choice.  She was as doggy a performer as any I’ve seen.

Also contributing to a polished and entertaining evening is Duane Langenwalter’s scenic design, in which the central set of a coop living room is surrounded by a changing photographic panorama which captures the changing seasons, as well as the myriad aspects of the city, from seedy tenements to the bucolic beauty of the park.

If you’ve never seen Sylvia this is a highly entertaining, feel good experience. You can bring the kids, as long as you are comfortable with them hearing a lot of language, especially when Sylvia goes ballistic over the existence of a cat on the street where she is walking.

(Performances continue at 182 Whisconier Road/Route 25 in Brookfield Center [behind the town library] through May 14. Curtain is Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $20, $15 students.

The theater is planning a special Mother’s Day performance on Sunday, May 2. Curtain is 2 pm, and will be preceded with a Mother’s Day Tea & Coffee Tasting. Call 203-775-0023 or visit BrookfieldTheatre.org for details on this or any performance.)

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