Volume XVII, Issue 41 # October 8 - October 14, 2009

Bay Theatre Company’s Sylvia: Best in Show

photo by Stan Barough

With boundless energy, Janet Luby portrays the Labradoodle named Sylvia, who changes Greg’s (David Elias) life.

reviewed by Jane Elkin

Sylvia, A. R. Gurney’s comedy about man’s best friend, debuted in 1995 to critical acclaim in NY. But it feels like it was written for Annapolis, home to more dog lovers than you can shake a stick at. A hit at Colonial Players six years ago, it’s back and better than ever at the Bay Theatre as the pet project of Co-Artistic Directors Lucinda Merry-Browne and Janet Luby. With Merry-Browne directing and Luby in the title role, this production is as puppylicious as Bil-Jac liver treats. If you liked it before, you’ll love it now. If you didn’t quite get it before, it’s all crystal clear this time around.

Sylvia is as much a commentary on marriage as it is on human-pet relationships. The people in Sylvia’s life, Greg (David Elias) and Kate (Sherry Skinker), are a midlife couple in stasis when he finds the stray dog Sylvia.

He’s disillusioned with his career, and Sylvia licks his wounds. Kate’s busy reviving a shelved career, and Sylvia raises her hackles. To Greg a dog is a link to his primal past, his existential muse, his escapist diversion and the new love of his life. To Kate a dog is a needy, noisy, messy interloper who sparks jealous animosity. Both are compelling characters in their own right, but Sylvia is the star of the show.

Luby portrays the Labradoodle with such boundless energy the audience feels her rabid affection, her insatiable gluttony and her casual earthiness as if she were drooling in their very laps, as she practically is. The theater’s small space works to advantage in mimicking the urban confinement that leads dogs to neurotic behaviors, while an oversized video screen cum picture window converts the stage and aisle to the great outdoors where Sylvia can be her crude self. She’s so foul mouthed you’ll swear she’s been eating diapers. As a physical comedienne, though, she is at her best when she gets down and dirty: on the couch with Kate, under the car with a cat and in the bushes with her doggy suitor.

Rounding out the cast is Peter Boyer, second only to Luby for his versatility in playing three roles that symbolize all the humans in Greg and Kate’s world. He is Tom, a proud dog owner who brings the subtle one-upsmanship of the mommy wars to the dog park. He is Phyllis, Kate’s canine-phobic friend and confidante. He is Leslie, an androgynous therapist and marriage counselor. As all three, he is marvelous.

In a play about change, the change an animal brings about in people and vice versa, Sylvia’s metamorphosis from fleabag to fabulous is delightful as her human-style costumes escalate from plain fur to pink froufrou. Nothing is too good for Greg’s mistress.

Another nice touch is the attention to music. A soundtrack of Edith Piaf love songs sets the stage, and the sweetest moment of the night comes when Greg accompanies Kate to the airport and they croon, “Every Time We Say Goodbye (I Die a Little),” even as Sylvia howls along at home, alone, on the couch.

It’s such attention to details that makes this show so much fun for anyone who has ever loved a dog — or not.

Thru Nov. 8 at 8pm ThFSa; 3pm Su @ Bay Theatre, Annapolis. $30 w/discounts: 410-268-1333.