By A. R. Gurney
Directed by Kate Alexander
Florida Studio Theatre's Keating Mainstage
1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, 941-366-9000
July 28 through August 29, 2010

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker


With kids out of the nest and himself newly away from suburban life, at the wrong  job and in middle-aged crisis, Greg—away from work and on a walk in the park—immediately bonds with Sylvia. As needy as the abandoned, adoring dog, he brings her home.  Happy with their new freedoms, upwardly mobile with her teaching career and project to teach Shakespeare to urban youth, Kate doesn't want to resume caring for a pet. Result of the conflict: a romantic triangle. As Greg spends less time on the job and more with Sylvia, who soon takes over his and Kate's apartment, he's less in tune with his wife. Their wrenching situation is clear when the three sing "Every time we say good-bye, I die a little" on a split stage. On one side, Sylvia's moping on the sofa Kate when present forbids her; on the other, at the airport, the couple awaits Kate's business flight. It's not certain whom Greg sings regrets at leaving.


Yet Sylvia's a comedy, and not only because of the happy ending tacked on in a narrative obviously aimed at dog lovers.  Author A. R. Gurney's device of having Sylvia's thinking and talking out loud express the thoughts and feelings of man and wife makes for some very funny dialog! Sylvia's alternates between syrupy (toward Greg) and salty (at Kate and, with added ferocity and perhaps unnecessarily vulgar  language,  at a cat). Obviously, the titled role requires tour de force performance, and Katharine Abbruzzese fills the bill. Physically too, whether licking, lunging, leaping, or emulating the result of being in heat or having  just been spayed.  Though it's difficult for Kate to compete, Rita Rehn, dignified  even when distraught, elicits sympathy for her position and point of view.  In Warren Kelley's countenance may be seen Greg's psychological extremes: being flattered by and needing Sylvia's devotion yet wanting to re-connect with his wife and a normal family life.


As samples of the stages Greg treds in his relationship with Sylvia, there are returns to the park. There he meets Jeffrey Plunkett's outspoken Tom, philosophic owner of Bowser, a dog Sylvia (in heat) takes to, making Greg jealous. Tom also gets Greg thinking about his marital dilemna, which they share. Plunkett's second (and funniest) role is as Kate's old college chum, Phyllis, a society matron who visits her to help in a fund raising project. Sylvia comes on to her and drives her to drink. Finally, Plunkett, as therapist Leslie who's bisexual or half-man, half-woman or perhaps acting both, identifies Greg's problem but balks at what Greg wants him/her to do further. The counseling episode seems like filler and is correspondingly Plunkett's least convincing,  with his voice pretty much the same as in previous roles.


Helping advance  characterizations are Nicole Wee's costume designs. Sylvia, for example, enters in variegated brown shabby sweater and tights, gets groomed in puffy pink like a poodle, and tries to compete as if a woman in svelte black with rhinestone belt. Lauren Feldman's set features a generic New York skyline to the rear and unfortunately requires a great deal of furniture moving to shift from the couple's apartment to other sites. It works against director Kate Alexander's otherwise fine pacing. Micheal Foster's lighting and John Valines' sound are well designed.


Will Willoughby is Production Stage Manager for the 2 hour show with 15 minute intermission.

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