Saturday, August 16, 2014


Playwright:  A. R. Gurney
VenueAvenue Theatre, 401 17th Avenue, Denver CO, 80203.
Running Time:  2 hour, 15 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Friday, August 15, 2014 (Opening Night)
John Ashton (Greg) at The Avenue Theater

Whether your pet is a dog, a cat, or some other creature, you've almost certainly wondered at some point "what is he/she thinking?"  Of course, you'll never know.    And that mystery is a large part of the power of Sylvia.
Sylvia, you see, is a stray dog that Greg (John Ashton) finds one day in a park.  He's charmed, seduced, and he falls in love with "Sylvia" (it's the only ID he can find on her tags).  Greg brings her home, naively miscalculating how much disruption she will bring to his life.
A. R. Gurney's script gives Sylvia (Amie MacKenzie) a voice.  She speaks to us, giving us an insight to what our own dogs/pets might say.  Fair warning: Sylvia can toss out some F bombs, along with her canine insights.  That said, Gurney gives Sylvia a charming personality,and a total devotion to her master, Greg.  
Greg's wife, Kate (Abby Apple Boes) is disinterested in Sylvia (or any other dog, for that matter), to the point of open hostility.  Therein lies the conflict in Sylvia; Greg ultimately has to choose which female he wants in his life.  He cannot have both Kate and Sylvia.  
The script requires one to accept that Greg has an unhealthy but deep platonic love for his dog.  At some point (and Greg is WAY beyond this point), it becomes a mental health problem.  Greg's behavior is extreme, even for dog lovers.  You will want to accept this unlikely premise, because the payoff is worth it.  Sylvia's charm easily overcomes Greg's insanity. and we all benefit from Sylvia's insights and playfulness.
This Ashton/Abster Production is a reprise of Sylvia from some years ago, reuniting the original cast for a new romp through the non-stop laughs in Gurney's script.  They are all intimately familiar with their roles, which they attack with relish and respect simultaneously.  It's a marvelous script, and the cast knows how to make it sing...and bark.
Amie MacKenzie (Sylvia).
Although they struggled somewhat with their vocals for Cole Porter's Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye, the cast is uniformly excellent.  Amie MacKenzie's role as Sylvia is very physical; she spends a great deal of her stage time on her hands and knees.  MacKenzie never seems to tire of crawling on the stage, all while accurately demonstrating the mannerisms of every dog I have ever known.  To say that she is a convincing actress in Sylvia doesn't do her justice; it's better to say that she is a convincing dog.  Anyone who has any doubts about MacKenzie's ability to portray a dog need only watch her reaction to cats.
John Ashton is marvelous as Greg; his emotional commitment to both the females in his life is never in doubt, and when he finally makes his choice between them, the tears in his eyes are real.  Abby Apple Boes is strong as well, making Kate a loving but frustrated wife who forces a confrontation with Greg but then makes a difficult transition seem plausible.  
Tupper Callum (Tom/Phyllis/Leslie)
It is Tupper Callum, though, who steals the spotlight every time he is on stage as Tom, as Phyllis, and as Leslie. He masterfully plays all three roles, one male, one female, and one of undefined gender, and triumphs with all three.  Callum is fetching in drag as Phyllis, and casually androgynous as Leslie.  He brings a delicious mix of comedic mischief and dramatic seriousness to each of his peculiar characters.  
Pamela Clifton's direction is fast paced and focused.  She added some nice touches, such as the garbage can in the park.  Clifton uses it to deposit a large bag of dog poop with a thud, drawing audible "ewwws" from the audience.
As Sylvia says to Greg, "I'm a mystery."  She's right.  We can never know what our pets are thinking.  Sylvia lets us explore that mysterious gap between people and their pets, and the result is intriguing.
Sylvia has been produced multiple times in the last few years in Denver.  If you've seen it before, you should see it again.  This cast is recreating their original roles, bringing their experience and a huge amount of talent to the Avenue Theater stage.  If you've never seen Sylvia, now is the time to buy a ticket.  Whether you're a dog lover, a cat lover, or never had a pet, you'll be charmed by getting inside Sylvia's head.  This is a laugh out loud show with something for everyone.  
It's a no-brainer to recommend Sylvia.  I simply need to tell you this:  the house was nearly full for opening night, and the audience gave the cast a long, enthusiastic and well earned standing ovation.  
Buy a ticket.  You'll be charmed, entertained, exhilarated, and delighted by Sylvia.    And you too will be on your feet hooting, hollering, and clapping as the actors take their bows.
Cast, L-R:  Abby Apple Boes (Kate), John Ashton (Greg), Tupper Callum (Tom/Phyllis/Leslie), Amie MacKenzie (Sylvia).  And I think that might be Bob in front...

This show is suitable for teens and up; the sometimes crude language may not be appropriate for younger children.  
The Avenue Theater is in one of the most densely populated parts of Denver.  Street parking is your only option, so allow sufficient time to circle the block a few times.  There are a number of restaurants and bars within 2-3 blocks of the theater.
FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am now a part owner of a couple of dogs (my wife Roxie has two long haired daschunds).  They're both charming, but Lucky is one of the most intelligent creatures I have ever met.  I have no way of knowing what she's thinking, but I do know that she is ALWAYS thinking.  I wish she could talk, like Sylvia.  I know we could have some VERY interesting conversations.
This show closes on September 6, 2014. 
Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
It's only 3 blocks away at 700 E 17th Avenue, but it's a world apart from your standard comfort food.  Hamburger Mary's is gay, fun (the menu lists appetizers under the category of "Foreplay"), and delicious.  All, including heterosexuals, are welcome.  We had the Cilantro Lime Shrimp Salad and the fish and chips; both are delicious.  Oh...and by some coincidence, our waitress' name was "Mary."  Really.  
Tickets HERE.
Photo Credits Avenue Theater

Director:  Pamela Clifton
Scenic Design:  Patrick Gerace
Lighting Design:  Seth Allison
Costume Design:  Those Who Wear Them

Sylvia:  Amie MacKenzie
Greg:  John Ashton
Kate:  Abby Apple Boes
Tom/Phyllis/Leslie:  Tupper Cullum

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