2nd Story’s ‘Sylvia’ A Perfect Treat
It’s a show with non-stop laughs, just drop-dead funny, making it perhaps the best thing on a local stage right now. Don’t miss it.by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
Director Ed Shea likes to break rules. His new downstairs performance space at 2nd Story Theatre was to host cutting-edge shows for the connoisseur. But for his latest effort, he’s gone with A. R. Gurney’s “Sylvia,” the cute, clever play about a man and his dog.
And that is a welcomed move, for this production is delightful. No, make that perfect, with crisp direction from Pat Hegnauer, who helped found the company decades ago, and sparkling performances from a four-member cast that can do no wrong.
But most of all, it’s a show with non-stop laughs, just drop-dead funny, making it perhaps the best thing on a local stage right now. Don’t miss it.
“Sylvia” dates from the mid-1990s, and seems pretty silly on paper, with middle-aged Greg bringing home a dog he found in the park. It is love at first sight, which causes more than a little tension between Greg and his English-teacher wife Kate, who just doesn’t have time for a dog in her busy life.
What makes the play work, of course, is that Sylvia the dog is played by a human who lets her owners know just where she stands.
Kate wants Sylvia to go, but Greg finds excuses to keep her, which leads to marriage counseling with a therapist of ambiguous gender played by Jim Sullivan, who is just a scream. Sullivan also turns up as an advice-dispensing dog-park buddy, and as Kate’s uptight friend Phyllis, decked out in high heels and earrings.
But really the entire cast is wonderful, with Shea making a rare stage appearance as Greg, and Lara Hakeem, who is back at 2nd Story after a long absence, as Sylvia in a performance that just sparkles.
Hakeem has her dog moves down cold, nuzzling Phyllis’ crotch, and spouting a string of obscenities when she spies a neighborhood cat, one of the more outrageously funny moments in the show.
And then there’s the scene where Hakeem is in heat and heads to the bushes with Bowser, only to return completely disheveled, with a missing boot and her shorts unbuttoned.
And that’s one of the nice things about this play, that it’s so over the top but still speaks the truth about a relationship pet lovers know all too well.
Shea, who is usually behind the scenes directing, is terrific as Greg, with the slightly mad look of a man obsessed. His voice is even tighter and higher pitched than usual, with rapid-fire dialogue.
Playing opposite him as wife Kate is Sharon Carpentier, who does her best to put up with this love affair between Greg and Sylvia, even when she’s about to head off to England to teach and Greg refuses to go with her because Sylvia would have to be quarantined for six months.
The show just flies by thanks to Hegnauer’s fast-paced direction. And the laughs just keep coming, until the sweet, somewhat sentimental ending.
True, the play is pretty lightweight, but it’s done with such panache, and the writing is so fresh, that “Sylvia” is a real winner.