“Sylvia” at MTC Explores the Eternal Triangle of Man, Woman and Dog

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sylvia 2
Photo by Alex Mongillo
sylvia 1
Photo by Alex Mongillo

By Karen Isaacs

Sylvia by A. R. Gurney is a delightful play about the love between a man and his dog. I’ve seen it multiple times and always enjoyed it. It’s now at MTC in Norwalk through Feb. 23.

In fact the show is perfect for February; a month dedicated to romance and love.

We have three main characters: Greg a middle-aged professional man who is profoundly bored and unexcited by his executive job; his wife, Kate, who has new found enthusiasm and energy in a new profession – teaching literature to inner city students. And then there is Sylvia, the dog that Greg finds in the park and brings home.

Kate is less than thrilled; she has done the “dog thing” when the children were younger (they are in college) and they lived in suburbia. Now they are living in a NYC apartment and she suddenly feels “free.”

The conceit, or gimmick if you will, is that Sylvia is played by an actress. As Greg gets more and more wrapped up in her and her care, and less and less involved with his job (he starts taking afternoons off to walk Sylvia), it becomes a marital triangle with Sylvia as the “other woman.”

One other cast member plays three different roles: Tom, a macho dog owner whom Greg meets in the park; Phyllis, an old school friend of Kate’s now a Manhattan social leader; and Leslie a therapist who is gender fluid.

The success of any production of this play depends on the cast. In this case, while Dennis Holland is fine as Greg, he gets little energy or vitality from Carole Dell’Aquila who plays Kate, his wife. She is low key and quiet most of the play; her frustration, jealousy and anger are barely hinted at. This unbalances the production with Holland and Bethany Fitzgerald who plays the rambunctious Sylvia, seemingly taking all the air in the room. It also makes the impact of Kate’s occasional comments to the audience which usually include a Shakespeare quote, less meaningful. Sometimes they were hard to actually hear.

Fitzgerald does a good job as Sylvia; she plays the dog as more outgoing than I’ve sometimes seen, but it works.

Jim Schilling gets to play the three other roles, with varying degrees of success. He quite good though low key, as Tom the owner of Macho (the name fits both the dog and the man) who spouts all sorts of opinions about the dog-man relationship and always seems to have book title handy. As the society matron, Phyllis, he has moments that are funny. It’s as therapist Leslie that he is least successful.

Kevin Connors has directed the play nicely even if it could be paced a bit faster.

The scenic design by Jessie Lizotte handles the apartment, which looks very nice. All the other scenes appear to be outdoors, even the session with the therapist. Given the small MTC stage, it’s not a problem.

You don’t have to be a dog owner or a dog lover to enjoy Sylvia, but if you are one, you will get even more pleasure from it.

For tickets, visit MTC.

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