If you’ve been to a theater show or been a part of one yourself, you’ve probably heard the adage to never have children or animals in a show. Both steal the spotlight and are hard to manage. So the plot of the play "Sylvia" is interesting because the central figure is a dog.
“We all look for
Greg, the man who brings her home, is going through difficult midlife and finds new purpose in Sylvia. “We all look for unconditional love,” director Deborah De Gross said. This is what a pet offers us, and what Greg is perhaps seeking. This play “holds the mirror up to life” so we can see the pet owner in all of us. He lets his world dissolve into dog ownership. Like many dog owners, Greg, played by actor Heath Martin, often forgets that Sylvia is a dog. He can’t understand how anyone could not love Sylvia and that injects tension into his marriage to Kate, who is not a dog-lover. Played by Julie Smith, Kate is a woman looking forward to an opportunity to build upon her career after the children have left home. The introduction of Sylvia is both baffling and frustrating, and Kate begins to see Sylvia as a rival. Although the characters keep telling themselves she’s just a dog, the play gets around the fact that a dog is being played by a human by having the characters come to see Sylvia as human, meeting the audience in their viewing experience.
"This play "holds a mirror up to life."
“By using a human ‘dog’ [the play] explore[s] the dynamics of an empty nest marriage—and really all relationships where there are things you are willing to discuss and others that are just best left ‘unstated,’” artistic director Petra Karr said.
This play is not afraid to push the circumstances of an obsessed dog owner, devoted dog, and disgruntled partner into those of a cheating husband infatuated with a younger woman and an outraged wife. Even the conversations Greg has with a fellow dog owner in the park start to sound like relationship advice. This play by A. R. Gurney blurs the line between human and dog.
Sylvia speaks and interacts like any other human character but the dialogue is just so that you can easily imagine the human characters really just talking to a dog. Sylvia even has costume changes. No, she’s not in a dog suit. Appropriately enough, her costumes are a blend of human clothes and dog features such as a tail and ears. When she goes to the groomers, for example, Sylvia flounces out in a bright tutu and a hair bow.
I saw this production by Act 1 Theatre out of the Liberty Theater in Puyallup. Act 1 is a community theater group that offers classes and workshops, dance troupes, and produces plays and musicals for two-week stints at the Liberty Theater. All of their crew and actors are volunteers and they are funded solely by the artistic directors, Chris and Petra Karr, and donations. Even so, they put on a superb show.
The set consisted of rotating flats to portray a beautiful New York skyline and a leaf-strewn parkscape. The sets easily transitioned from a stylish apartment to a park to an airport to a therapist’s office with a few added chairs or removed magazines. The minimalism of the play lent itself to the creativity of the show and really made the actors shine.
Sylvia, played by Mataja Davidson, perfectly portrayed a dog’s devotion, eagerness, and earnestness. Her facial expressions were ones that can easily be seen (or projected) on our canine counterparts. Heath Martin and Julie Smith’s depiction of a couple consisting of a dog-lover and not a dog-lover was relatable and hilarious. The supporting actors were equally talented. Trevor Williams played both a man and a woman and did so seamlessly. Leigh Duncan as the fumbling Phyllis was entirely uncomfortable around Sylvia.
“I know what a place pets
take in our lives
and our hearts,
and 'Sylvia' celebrates
that joy as well.”
"Sylvia" as put on by Act 1 Theatre was a delight. Whatever your relationship with the canine in your life is like, "Sylvia"gives you something to relate to and laugh at. “I know what a place pets take in our lives and our hearts, and Sylvia celebrates that joy as well,” Karr said.
Reviewed by Megan Noborikawa
Act 1 Theatre will finish their 2016-2017 season with "The Women of Lockerbie" running May 26-27 and June 2-3.