A man and his dog…and his wife. That’s what A.R. Gurney’s “Sylvia” is about.
But if you know Gurney, the prolific comedy writer who always approaches his plays with a surprise for his audiences, you know that “Sylvia” will have you in stitches.
Artistic Director Ed Shea returns to the stage as Greg, the New York City financial trader who is going through male menopause, unhappy in his job and finding something missing in his 20-year-old marriage.
While walking in the park, he is greeted by a female dog whose dog tag identifies her as Sylvia. It is mutual love at first sight.
Greg’s wife, Kate (Sharon Carpentier), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and after numerous confrontations it comes down to making a choice between wife and dog.
Lara Hakeem is absolutely delightful, irreverent and hysterically funny as Sylvia, playing the English-speaking mutt (She calls herself “multi-cultural”) to a tee. Her movements, her reactions (what she does when she spots a cat is as funny as it gets) and her reactions to what is going on around her are priceless.
Director Pat Hegnauer has the under two-hour, two-act play moving at high speed, using background drawings of an apartment building, Central Park and city streets to designate locations behind Trevor Elliot’s cozy apartment setting.
What could have been a one-joke play, a dog coming between a husband and a wife, is so much more. We can sympathize with the jealous wife, while also understanding her husband’s yearning for something more.
You immediately buy into the fact that Sylvia talks and everyone hears her. When she goes into the woods with a male dog and returns disheveled, you buy it. And when she reluctantly does tricks, like rolling over, you feel for her embarrassment.
And wait until you see her reaction to being “fixed!”
The play has many subtle and some not-so-subtle references to the need for love, companionship, meaning and caring, while bombarding you with hilarious situations. Shea and Hakeem play off each other perfectly, while a few tense scenes between dog and wife are explored with a degree of pathos.
Jim Sullivan is credited in the program as playing “Everyone Else.” While Shea’s occasional roles at 2nd Story are usually as Top Banana, there is no better Second Banana than Sullivan. He appears as a dog owner who gives advice freely to Greg. He returns as Kate’s female friend in a howler of a scene where she encounters Sylvia. Then she is back as a psychologist whose sexuality is in question. All three characters are winners in this winner of a play that wraps up with a tender little scene.
Gurney’s plays are popular among the college and community theatre circuit. If you want to see what a professional acting company can do with it, don’t miss 2nd Story’s version.
“Sylvia” plays through May 18 at Warren’s 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market St. in Warren Center. Tickets are $25. Call 247-4200 for reservations. It is in the smaller, intimate downstairs theatre.