A.R. Gurney's hit play Sylvia has just opened at the Edgemar Center Theater in Santa Monica. It was first produced in New York in 1995 and starred Sarah Jessica Parker as Sylvia, Blythe Danner as Kate and Charles Kimbrough as Greg. It was a hit then and I predict this version of it will be a hit as well.
Greg (Stephen Howard) is having an affair. He and Kate (Cathy Arden) are long married, middle-aged, empty nesters. Kate is thriving in her job as a teacher but Greg has lost his love for his career and is at a crossroads.
Enter Sylvia (Tanna Frederick), the object of Greg's affection. Sylvia happens to be a dog. Greg finds her in the park on one of his walks and she adopts him. What unfolds is pure hysteria. Greg brings her home and nervously waits for Kate. Sylvia runs around smelling her new home and saying things to Greg like, "I think you're God."
Kate is not at all happy about this new addition. She wants nothing to do with Sylvia, who she calls Saliva, and begins to resent Greg's obsessive love for his new companion. She says that Sylvia is eating a serious hole in their 22-year marriage. The mid-life male having an affair is not news, but in this play he's having it with a dog.
Stephen Howard, Cathy Arden and Tanna Frederick (photo by John Heller)
We watch as Greg and Sylvia grow closer. Tanna Frederick is truly brilliant as Sylvia. She embodies the fun-loving, childlike spirit of the dog. Although Sylvia does talk, she says what we think a dog might be thinking. While Greg is confiding in her about his life she says, "I'd really like to contribute something here, but I just can't."
Tanna Frederick (photo by John Heller)
A bright comedic spot in the play shows up when Tom Ayers enters. He plays two characters; one male and one female. His male character, also named Tom, is the owner of Sylvia's favorite male dog named Bowser. Tom and Greg chat at the dog park about their dogs, and their lives. The scenes between them are some of the funniest in the play.
Tom also plays Phyllis, who is an old college friend of Kate's. As Phyllis, he embodies the prissy New York socialite who hates dogs and anything messy. He is hysterical in both roles!
Stephen Howard, Tanna Frederick and Tom Ayres (photo by Ron Vignone)
The direction by Gary Imhoff is excellent. Set design by Joel Daavid is very effective as he uses essentially the same space to portray their Manhattan apartment, the dog park and the airport.
The play runs through July. Don't miss it!
For more information, and to get tickets, you can find it here.