July 21st, 2011, 2:30 pm by Sara
July 19th, 2011, 10:17 am by Sara
Greg (David Adkins) and Sylvia (Rachel Bay Jones) share a cozy moment (photo: Jaime Davidson)
In A.R. Gurney’s 1995 light comedy, Sylvia, she is part poodle and all woman. Succinctly put, Sylvia is a dog*. Not the play, the character. The play is the fluffiest and sweetest of merengues, perfectly concocted by director Anders Cato and a splendid cast. If you are now or ever have been a dog-owner, you will just love this open love letter to the miraculous bond that has developed over the millennia between canines and homo sapiens.
There is a plot, but it is negligible and Gurney dispatches it deus ex machina after he has run out of dog jokes, which is fine by me. The fun here is in seeing the relationship between man and dog played out by two humans – in this case the eminently likeable David Adkins as Greg and Rachel Bay Jones as Sylvia. Greg has a wife, Kate, and Cato and actress Jurian Hughes manage to make much more of her than the plot device that she is.
Forty-something and newly minted empty-nesters, Kate and Greg are both pondering the gap between child-rearing and retirement and both are itching for a change. Kate has earned her Masters’ degree and is passionate about her new career as an English teacher. Greg is fed up with the corporate grind and longs for something more “real.” The open affection, visceral energy, and basic needs of Sylvia, a mutt Greg finds in the park one day (or does she find him?), instantly fills that void, just as she threatens to suck Kate back into the nurturing and subservient role she has finally outgrown. Kate’s inability to embrace Sylvia and her relationship with Greg comprises all the tension in the play. But don’t worry, folks. There’s a happy ending.
David Adkins and Rachel Bay Jones in BTF’s production of Sylvia (photo: Jaime Davidson)
Years before Edward Albee wrote a play about a man falling passionately in love with a goat named Sylvia, A.R. “Pete” Gurney wrote his comedy Sylvia. It is the first offering of the season on the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Fitzgerald Main Stage in Stockbridge. In this 1995 comic masterpiece, Gurney wrote about a dog who totally seduces the attentions and affection of hard working, middle class husband in one howler of a play. Albee had good reason to honor Gurney with his own homage to anthropomorphism.
So much of Sylvia’s dialogue is a revelation, but the tricks-and-treats scene stands out. Sylvia does a trick. Greg praises her and pops a treat into her mouth. Then he gives the command for a second trick. Sylvia replies, “I’m still eating.”
It proves the old adage that “drama is easy, comedy is hard.” Some may dismiss this glorious evening of nonstop laughs as lightweight entertainment, but beneath all the fun is Gurney’s usual focus on the fantasies and foibles of middle class life.
Getting this outrageously funny story to the stage was not easy for the acclaimed novelist and playwright, and though he is a Williams College graduate, Sylvia has never been done at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. They prefer his heavier and more serious “message” plays. That may change, but until then, bravo to Kate Maguire and the Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) for filling in the glaring gap.
Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.