You don’t have to be a dog lover, or on social security, to enjoy Footlighters Theater production of SYLVIA, but it helps and you may understand more of the jokes. The story of SYLVIA not only touches on the relationship between a man and a woman, but also on a man and his dog, and how sometimes the line between the two relationships can blur. It’s also a story about transition, centered on a man trudging through his “dangerous [midlife] years” and how the love of something “real” can change a person.
The play opens on a set complete with a couch, a chair and a fire hydrant next to the corner desk. This becomes clearer later in the play, but I figured it was normal for a New York City apartment.
Right away we meet Greg, played by Tony Filipone, who brings home an energetic and wildly playful pooch named Sylvia, played by Lorraine Delgado Amador. Before seeing the show, I knew there would be a young woman portraying a canine, I even heard the role was written for Sarah Jessica Parker, but I wasn’t sure of the schematics. When Lorraine/Sylvia came bounding on stage in a stripped sweater and patch ridden jeans, her shoulder length dark curly hair bouncing free with each leap and excited jiggle, I was surprised at how quickly I got used to the idea. It didn’t seem fake or forced, her genuine attachment to her new found owner felt just like any other new relationship, fresh, alive and electric.
The only awkwardness was in the way Greg showed his affection right at the beginning. Even though I’ve only brought home a stray parakeet before, I’ve never seen someone kiss and rub an animal so much, especially right after finding it in a park in NYC no less. It’s one thing to feel a connection with something, but more believable to get it checked out before setting it free in the living room.
This is something I would think Greg’s wife Kate, played by Sharon Nagy, would agree with. I felt her immediate distaste, like she could smell the fleas, but believed her when she softened and gave this new relationship a chance.
As the story progressed, I started to see the transition in each character, especially Sylvia. The wardrobe choices started to make sense as Sylvia freshened up and started to straighten up more and more. Sylvia also went from a dog who could communicate, to one who could sing and even understand literary works, like the Odyssey. This was one of the few moments of pause I had with this character. Yes, I understood she was getting more comfortable in her surroundings and was probably supposed to reveal the larger meaning of the story, but making references from ancient Greece was going a little too far. The lessons in literature should have stopped with Kate’s constant quotes from Shakespeare.
Someone who also had a more visual transition was James Reese, who played Tom, Phyllis and Leslie. He went from Tom, a manly man with a manly dog, to Phyllis, who seemed more like a transvestite than a socialite. I wasn’t quite sure what the purpose of the scene with Phyllis was, other than to add some humor and more feelings of discontent from Kate. It was almost as if Tom put on a dress and wig, raised his voice a little, and showed up for a drink and a chat. The wittiness of this scene was also lost in rushed dialogue. Even though it caught some laughs, there was more opportunity to nail the humor with better pacing. James was more believable as Tom the second time around, and then again as Leslie. This time his voice was softer and the question of gender was discussed, not only making it more believable, but also adding to the message of the play and that blurred line between what you see and what you get.
Since I’ve never owned a dog, I felt it fitting to bring along a good of friend of mine who experienced both the supreme joy and heartbreaking loss of her lab. It was interesting to hear her take on the play, especially since she’s accompanied me to many community theater performances before. She shared with me how she empathized with Greg and his love for Sylvia, no matter how strange it looked at times. She was also surprised at all the recognizable canine characteristics Lorraine was able to bring to the role, especially since we learned after the show that YouTube videos were used for research.
Overall, no matter whether you own a dog or not, you can still feel the love in the room and can’t help but feel the heart strings being pulled a little at the end. Anyone who’s had a strain put on their relationship knows it can take time to adjust. Some people may run to the therapist, but who knows, more marriages may be saved by consulting the family pet.
By A.R. Gurney
Directed by Kirk Paul
February 4 – 19, 2011
58 Main Ave