First I’d like to say that “Sylvia” is an absolute true charmer of a play. It’s laugh out loud funny and can prompt small smiles, too. At 2nd Story, director Pat Hegnauer has given it force and speed and reached to its serious undercurrent, too. This is one of the very best productions of the current theater season. Don’t miss it.
Okay, about explaining it all. Playwright A.R. Gurney, best known for “Love Letters” and “The Dinner Party,” has set it up simply. A middle-aged couple with
22 years of marriage have moved from the suburbs to the city. Their kids are out of the house and the couple loves being in Manhattan, the plays, the museums, the restaurants. One day Hubby, played with clear nuance by artistic director Ed Shea, shows up with a pooch he’s picked up in the park. Sweet dog. Mixed breed. Maybe a lab- poodle, he speculates.
His wife, done spot-on by Sharon Carpenter, is appalled. A dog? In our apartment? We’ve got dinner parties, and plays, and lectures to go to. And I don’t want a mutt chewing up my new furniture. “Forgetaboutit,” she says like a true New Yorker.
But hubby just won’t cut that leash. Even when a fellow canine lover warns him not to let the dog take over and make his wife feel demoted, he thinks, “it won’t happen to me.”
But that’s just what takes place. The seams of the marriage are strained by the husband’s love for Sylvia. A relationship with a dog is much less complex than one with a spouse, after all. But hubby misses all that.
Yes, they try therapy. Wife confides in and flails about with a female friend. (Both, by the way, are played with glorious feminine vibrancy by Jim Sullivan who also has played the male dog-loving friend.) But things are still falling, still on the verge of a separation.
So, let’s turn here to Sylvia herself. She’s played with wonderful dog-like insistence and charm by Lara Hakeem in certainly one of the finest performances of the season. She’s sweet, and desperate. Charged with desire and need, she hands out love but can turn on a dime.
Hakeem as Sylvia actually reminds you of just how dogs are. Does she charm you when she tries crawl up onto the furniture? Yes. Does she go wild with foul- mouthed invective when sighting a cat? Yes. Does she sing a touching lament about being left alone in the apartment? Yes. And when Sylvia’s in heat, and meets Bowser, a male dog. . . Well, let’s not get into too many details of that fantastically funny moment.
Suffice to say, that Hakeem is incisive about her role and as charming as any dog can be in a wonderful performance.
So, Sylvia, a comedy, has something to say about love and marriage. It looks at a dog’s life and at the lives of a lot of us, too. Playwright Gurney once said that he likes to “push against the walls a little bit” when he writes a play.
Well, he’s surely done that with “Sylvia.” And 2nd Story has only aided the pushing with a first-rate take on the life of Sylvia. And others.
Want To Go?
“Sylvia” continues at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren through May 18th.
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