Theatre Review: “Sylvia”
Another hit in a long line of pedigree productions from the amazing 2nd Story Theatre.by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
The last time Ed Shea and Sharon Carpentier graced a 2nd Story Theatre stage with their extraordinary talent, they played an upscale Manhattan couple (Martin and Stevie) working through a marital crisis in Edward Albee’s “The Goat or Who is Sylvia?”
In that 2012 production, Carpentier dealt quite forcefully with the goat posing a threat to her marriage and domestic tranquility, such it was with a belligerent gay teenager in the house; however, Albee’s question of just who Sylvia is, was never adequately answered. Well, now we know!
In Shea and Carpentier’s latest portrayal of an upscale Manhattan couple (Greg and Kate) working through a marital crisis, we learn that Sylvia is in fact a dog, a mixed breed stray that Greg finds in Central Park and brings home, much to Kate’s displeasure.
Shea and Carpentier fill the roles of a not so odd couple as naturally as a taxi navigating the canyons of lower Manhattan. They’ve had some good years, but with the kids grown and out on their own, the best is yet to come — until Sylvia enters the picture. She changes everything and Shea and Carpentier could not be more convincing or affecting than a couple in turmoil.
Every dog may very well have its day; that is probably a matter of some conjecture among humans and canines alike. However, it’s quite uncommon for every dog, or any dog for that matter, to have its very own play. But such is not the case with this dog and this play named simply “Sylvia” by A.R. Gurney.
Gurney is an obvious dog owner and lover and he probably does “ dog speak” as well as any writer on the planet. Every dog owner consciously or unconsciously tries to get inside their dog’s head, to read their dog’s thoughts and imagine what their dog is thinking, to wonder what their dog would say if given the gift of speech.
Gurney gives his Sylvia a voice and the result is a treat.
Director Pat Hegnauer’s handling of the script is ideal, both sensitive and affirming. Gurney’s call for an attractive female actor to play the role of a dog with a white male master is fertile ground for feminist dissent, but Hegnauer’s sensitive interpretation of the material keeps the focus on family, not politics, and practically makes Lara Hakeem’s portrayal of Sylvia a theatrical masterpiece.
Hakeem didn’t have a lot to go on in finding a precedent for playing the role of a dog; she had to go on, well — instinct. And her instincts are right on!
The string of expletives she unleashes when confronted by a cat on her nightly walk comes as naturally for Sylvia as sniffing a fire hydrant to “check her mail.” She knows just how far she can push Kate, and in an ingenious addition to the script, Sylvia delivers a soulful rendition of Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” when left alone in the apartment.
Jim Sullivan as “Everyone Else” in the script is a tribute to theatrical versatility. Whether playing a macho man in the park, a transvestite therapist, or upper class twit, Sullivan is on key and cue.
Different murals of the New York skyline are illuminated by Steve McLellan’s lighting over Trevor Elliot design of a chic Manhattan apartment to depict scene changes. This innovative works perfectly whether depicting Central Park, a neighborhood street, or the JFK airline terminal.
“Sylvia” is a wonderful play because it shows how much goodness can be brought out of our species by one of the “lower” animals. “Sylvia” turns out to be much more than a play and a dog; it is another hit in a long line of pedigree productions from the amazing 2nd Story Theatre.