I've always counted on the Rep to bring in the new and fresh stuff to the Seattle Theater community. And while I understand their nostalgic aspect of choosing to bring back a perennial favorite with their current production of "Sylvia" by A.R. Gurney, I have to question "why this one?" which has become such a staple of smaller theaters and High Schools around the country since the Rep's first production in 1994. But looking beyond that, this production manages to infuse itself with tons of heart and charm and even turns in some extraordinary moments.
Greg and Kate (Alban Dennis and Mari Nelson) have settled into their Manhattan "empty nest" now that the last of their kids has gone off to college. But Greg has found himself going through a bit of a mid life crisis when he meets and falls for Sylvia (Linda K. Morris). Oh and I should mention, Sylvia is a dog and Greg has brought her home to fill whatever void he is now feeling in his life, much to the dismay of his wife Kate. And while having a dog would be fine, Kate becomes increasingly worried with Greg as he spends more and more time with Sylvia and less with her as well as at his job. Who will win out, wife or beast? Or is there room for both?
The play itself is extremely clever and fun as the human playing the canine romps about stage articulating what we can only imagine is going through the heads of man's best friend. And that I'm sure is why it's such an audience favorite. It's cute, clever and charming. And even with the strings of profanity (which I'm sure seemed risqué in 1994 and today seem kind of quaint) most audiences take to this show with ease.
Both Dennis and Nelson are likable and sympathetic as the overly invested dog owner and his overly concerned wife (although I felt Nelson went a little too quickly toward utter disdain for the dog which left her no where to go). And Morris is adorable as the embodiment of Sylvia but came across as a bit one note (but then how complex are dogs really?). But the high points of the evening came from the multiple roles played by Darragh Kennan as he effortlessly disappeared into the varied roles he was given. I especially loved his androgynous therapist in Act Two.
Director R. Hamilton Wright (who played Greg in the Rep's production in 1994 by the way) manages to tell a sweet story with very few surprises. But maybe that's because I'm so familiar with the play. So for those that haven't seen the show, it's a charmer and a fun evening, and for those that have, you can go to revisit a lovely story or to see some outrageous performances (Kennan). But if you're looking for something fresh or important, you may want to look elsewhere.
"Sylvia" at the Seattle Rep plays through December 11th. For tickets or information contact the Rep box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion