Author Kate DiCamillo once said “It’s hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humor.” And that’s true of the title character in A. R. Gurney’s play, Sylvia.
Greg and Kate (Terry Thomas and Kate Bergen) are a couple of “empty nesters” who leave the suburbs behind to start a new chapter of their lives together in the big city. She’s looking to further her career in education while he’s becoming more complacent with his own finding any opportunity to take the afternoon off for long strolls in the park.
It’s during one of these sojourns that Greg comes across a lovable stray dog named Sylvia (Rebecca Strom) and the two instantly bond. But when Greg brings the dog home to their apartment, his wife takes an immediate dislike to the cursing canine and rattles off every good – and not so good – reason why they can’t possibly keep her. It doesn’t take long before this unusual love triangle gets the ultimate ultimatum – “it’s either her or me.”
Strom brings just the right mix of humor and pathos to her character and you immediately accept that suspension of disbelief that she is a dog and fully buy into it (even the sight of her on her knees at the end of a leash doesn’t let your mind wander into Ghomeshi territory, but rather her character’s canine obedience). Thomas and Bergen are strong as the couple and while he gets to test of the waters of different emotions she remains pretty constant in her irritation and later downright hatred of Sylvia – although this may be more the fault of Gurney’s script than Bergen’s performance. Also, maybe those who share her character’s opinions of man’s best friend may relate more to her than this reviewer did.
Kanchana Walberg, Bowen Munsil and Tim Driscoll round out the supporting cast. While Walberg and Munsil are quite capable in their minor roles, it’s community theatre veteran Driscoll who shines brightest. As fellow dog owner Tom, Driscoll earns some of the show’s biggest laughs as he shares his innate knowledge of dogs and the psychology of their owners.
Whether you’re a dog person or not, Sylvia is one mutt you could fall in love with.
Sylvia runs Thursday to Saturday until Nov. 15 (with a Sunday matinee Nov. 9) at the Surrey Little Theatre (7027 184th Street, Surrey). For reservations call 604-576-8451 or go to brownpapertickets.com.
– Michael Roberds