Playwright: A.R. Gurney
Company: Funky Little Theater
Venue: Funky Little Theater, 2109 Templeton Gap Road, 80907
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance: Thursday, April 20, 2017.
If there’s anything we all feel strongly about, it’s our pets. Americans bond with their pets as strongly as they bond with the people in their families. We spend a fortune on them with special foods, high end pet hotels, and veterinary services comparable to the best hospitals for humans. A. R. Gurney’s brilliant comedy Sylvia taps into this huge reserve of love we have for our canine companions.
|L-R: Sylvia, Catherine Cotton McGuire (Kate), John Zincone|
(Greg), Amanda Gaden (Sylvia).
Gurney gives a voice to Sylvia, a stray dog (played here with a canine enthusiasm by Amanda Gaden). Sylvia inserts herself into Greg (John Zincone) and Kate’s (Catherine Cotton McGuire) home and marriage. Sylvia’s presence is disruptive to the domestic dynamic; Greg loves Sylvia unconditionally but for Kate the new dog is an unwelcome competitor for Greg’s attention.
Greg and Kate live in a New York City apartment, and bringing a dog into the mix is a significant challenge. Although they negotiate a deal to let Sylvia stay for a few days before making a final decision, Greg and Kate’s positions quickly harden to the consistency of cement. Sylvia stays, but the conflict intensifies as Greg sinks into a delusional emotional connection with Sylvia.
Sylvia is a laugh out loud comedy, with much of the laughter generated by Gaden’s convincing dog persona. She does it all like a real dog, whether it’s jumping on the furniture, licking her people, or barking when someone comes to the door. She’s pouty and evasive when Kate discovers someone has peed on the carpet. She’s a raging carnivore when she sees a cat. She’s an eager and unapologetic slut when she hooks up with Bowser. Gaden has mastered dog motions and mannerisms so well that when she speaks, we hear only Sylvia. We forget she’s actually a human.
John Zincone delivers a stand out performance as Greg; he’s moody, broody, and only borderline sane. Greg’s devotion to Sylvia is well beyond the pale, but Zincone somehow dials the dementia back to a slow simmer before it boils over. Catherine Cotton McGuire keeps her anger inside as Kate, rarely raising her voice despite Greg’s madness. She’s determined, but not assertive. At times, I wanted her to push back harder on Greg. She didn’t. Cotton McGuire draws a stark contrast between herself, completely in control, and Sylvia’s doggy driven spontaneity.
Gurney throws a few curve balls in his script, not the least of which is three minor characters (one male, one female, and one of undetermined gender) played by a single actor. That actor here is Sallie Walker, and her performance is brilliant in all three roles. Walker’s “Tom” makes her the most convincing cross dressing gal in Colorado. Walker’s “Phyllis” gets some of the biggest laughs of the evening when she tosses her AA membership for a double scotch. It’s through the androgynous “Leslie,” though, that we really understand Walker’s sexual fluidity. She can be anyone we want, male, female, or other. Few actors can make that claim; Walker can make it and prove it as well.
Chris Medina’s direction is crisp; scene changes are flawless. He has turned the ladies loose here, giving Gaden and Walker free reign to run with their characters. His focus on Cotton McGuire’s understated anger brings a version of Kate I hadn’t seen in four other productions. Medina’s set is part outdoor park and part indoor upscale NYC apartment. The apartment is adorned with two Georgia O’Keefe prints and one Mark Rothko. The effect is both classy and striking. Medina also produced Johnny Drago’s Trash recently, and the set was literally “Trash.” The contrast between the two sets is a visual testament to his versatility.
Gurney's script is hilarious, but the subliminal message is just as important: it's easy to lose touch in our relationships. "Sylvia" is a dog, but with very few tweaks to the script, she could be a woman. Relationships are hard work, but Greg has given up on Kate. Sylvia's unconditional love requires much less work than fixing things with Kate. Gurney moderates this conflict with a surprisingly bittersweet ending. Despite Greg's emotional distance and Kate's distrust of her competitor, Sylvia rebuilds a bridge that was only partially burned.
Sylvia is a tough ticket. Funky Little Theater is a small venue in a strip mall, seating perhaps 50 people. When I arrived shortly before show time, the parking lot was nearly full. We got two of the last 4 seats. The next couple to arrive filled the house, but they couldn’t sit together. I point this out because Sylvia will likely sell out the entire house for the rest of the run. Get your tickets early if you plan to see it.
Funky is partnering with All Breed Rescue & Training for this production. All Breed is a no kill shelter that rescues dogs. $1 from every ticket will be donated to All Breed. Purchase a ticket and you don’t just get a great evening of theater…you also support the dedicated people at All Breed:
All Breed Rescue & Training is a nonprofit dog rescue and training organization based in Colorado Springs. Since 1994, we’ve been rescuing, rehabilitating, and finding forever families for dogs deemed unadoptable and facing euthanasia.
Sight lines at Funky can be difficult in the back rows, especially for a show like Sylvia where some of the actors are on hands and knees. If you have a choice in seating (all tickets are general admission), get as close to the stage as possible.
Sylvia is suitable for teens and up, with the caveat that there are some F bombs in the script.
If you enjoyed Sylvia, I highly recommend reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It gets into a dog’s head, and it’s exactly what you would expect if your dog could talk.
|L-R: Caesar & Lucky|
Full disclosure: we have two (2) dogs in our household. They are long haired dachshunds, and yes, they are part of the family, no matter the cost.
This show closes on April 30, 2017.
Photo Credit: Funky Little Theater Company, Chris Medina and John Zincone.
Director: Chris Medina
Scenic Designer: Chris Medina
Lighting Design: Dylan McClintock
Costume Design: Delaney Halauer
Stage Manager: Dee Schnur/Megan McManus/Will Sobolik
Sylvia: Amanda Gaden
Greg: John Zincone
Kate: Catherine Cotton McGuire
Assorted Genders and Roles: Sallie Waker