What can happen to a marriage when a perky labradoodle becomes, literally, a man's best friend and comes uncomfortably close to being his paramour? That's the question explored with great comic effect in the Chequamegon Theatre Association production of “Sylvia,” playing June 14-23 at Ashland's Rinehart Theatre.
When Greg (David Garrington) finds a dog (Beth Kurtz) wandering lost and alone in Central Park, wearing only a nametag that reads “Sylvia,” it is love at first sight for both Greg and Sylvia. Despite fleas, dirt and some bad manners, he brings the stray home to his New York City apartment to the dismay of Kate (Tressa Harings) his wife of 22 years. Greg wants to keep Sylvia as a delightful distraction from a job he finds increasingly loathsome. Kate, on the other hand, is enjoying their newly empty nest and her chance to resume her career as a middle school English teacher. A dog just doesn't fit into the plan. “I want my freedom from dogs,” Kate declares.
As for Sylvia, we know exactly how she feels, too, because Sylvia can talk. And Greg and Kate understand her — whether they can actually hear her words or simply innately understand isn't absolutely clear, but they hold conversations with Sylvia.
As Sylvia's unconditional, people-pleasing adoration of Greg grows ‘ “I love you,” she says looking at him earnestly. “I think you're God” — so does Greg's dependency on Sylvia for emotional support. As Greg spends more and more time walking in the parks with Sylvia, ignoring his job to do so, Kate becomes more distraught. As obsessed as Greg becomes with keeping Sylvia, Kate becomes equally obsessed with getting rid of her. And Kate becomes jealous.
“You call her sweetheart,” she laments. “When was the last time you said that to me?”
As Greg is told by Tom (Sara Woody) a friend he meets in the dog park, “If you give a dog a woman's name, you're asking for trouble. You start to think of her as a woman.”
Because even though Sylvia is a dog, the great conceit of the comedy is that in being played by a woman, it's clear that Sylvia has in truth become a rival for Greg's affections. When Greg finally goes to couples therapy at Kate's urging, all he can talk about is Sylvia, even commenting on her “great butt.”
It's easy to see why Kate wants Sylvia to go.
Director Addisen Ploeger has staged a production full of humor coupled with the real desperation Greg feels in his job and the deep sadness Kate feels watching her husband become infatuated with “another woman.”
As Sylvia, Beth Kurtz is half wiggly, bouncy pup and half femme fatale. Between ogling Greg with her sweet puppy eyes and voicing her absolute adoration, Greg doesn't have a choice but to be smitten
As Greg and Kate, David Garrington and Tressa Harings hit the perfect tone of a couple in a relationship on the edge of breaking. Greg is desperately unhappy with his job and needs something new. Kate, with her quirky penchant for summarizing situations with lines from Shakespeare, is excited about a new job and a chance to study Shakespeare in England. As the couple navigates a new city and a new phase in their relationship, bringing Sylvia into the mix tips their tenuously balanced lives.
Dog-lovers and theater-lovers alike will find a great deal to enjoy in “Sylvia,” a romantic comedy that is for the dogs, and delightfully so.