By Greg Burliuk, Whig Standard
Way back when I was a bachelor, I'd come home from work and my dog Peppy would be waiting for me at the top of the stairs. I'd stick out my arm and she'd rest her paws on them gently. I came to firmly believe that if I talked to her enough, that one day she would answer in English.
Apparently playwright A.R. Gurney's dog did, or at least the dog of his creation does in his 1995 play Sylvia, now being produced by the King's Town Players at the Kingston Yacht Club. It's a sparkling evening of laughter and just a touch of bittersweetness, thanks to some great acting and a clever script.
The dog here is the title character, and it's not apparent for the first few minutes that Sylvia is a dog.
A man and a woman walk into a New York City apartment and she starts stalking the place. The man says to the woman that his wife will love her and a few seconds later you realize that the woman is Sylvia, a dog.
It turns out that Sylvia is a stray whom the man, Greg, rescued in the park, and she is properly grateful. "I think you're God," she says, laying her head on Greg's lap.
Sylvia has come along at the perfect time in Greg's life. His kids have left the nest, and his wife Kate has resumed her teaching career, while he has become more and more dissatisfied with his job.
He becomes obsessed with Sylvia, taking her for increasingly longer walks and telling her his every thought. Sylvia is easily distracted but tries her best. Soon it seems like Greg is treating her like a person, which of course to the audience is obvious, that's exactly what she is.
There is war between the females in the house. Kate never takes to Sylvia, and the latter soon stops trying to be nice to Kate. It doesn't take a crystal ball gazer to predict that a showdown is due to happen.
The playwright has become known through more serious plays like The Dining Room, for his exploration of the world of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, usually of some economic means. As funny as Sylvia is, it continues that exploration for it's another way of looking at the empty nest syndrome for couples, especially the male.
He has made Sylvia the dog funny, a bit of a smart-mouth, and not always dog-like, so that at times it almost feels like Greg's obsession is sexual. The resolution of the play is its biggest weakness as it's predictable and somewhat abrupt.
However, what makes this production rock is Krista Garrett's portrayal of Sylvia the dog. Garrett's Sylvia is very feminine, and when Sylvia is in heat, very hilarious as the dog has some potty mouth in her. It's especially fun to watch Garrett as Sylvia try to pay attention to Greg but, fail because she is so easily distracted.
As Greg, Walt Freeman is sincere and earnest, as he is the straight man in this act. He does a good job of portraying a man who becomes obsessed but not quite to the point of delusion. As Kate, Michelle Freedman, has the hardest part to play as it's the least sympathetic. For the most part she is fine, but has to be careful not to appear hectoring.
Jennifer Atkinson-Spencer does a great job playing three different parts. The best of these is as Tom, a fellow dog walker, who meets Greg in the park and has lots of unsolicited advice for him.
To sound a bit like Greg the character, I think Peppy would have liked this play. I couldn't help but think of her when leaving the Yacht Club because where we lived at the time was right in front of it.
Even if you haven't had a Peppy in your life, you'll love this play.