A man, his wife and their dog discover the meaning of love and devotion in the delightful comedy “Sylvia,” playing at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.
Directed by David Carey Foster, this whimsical and thought-provoking play cleverly explores the balance between self-discovery and marital bliss for one Manhattan couple.
Written by American playwright A.R. Gurney, the play opened off-Broadway in New York City in 1995 with actress Sarah Jessica Parker as the title pooch. It will debut on Broadway this October starring Parker’s husband, Matthew Broderick, as Sylvia’s owner.
Middle-aged couple Greg (David Norum) and Kate (Kristen Saunders) have moved to New York City from the suburbs to start a new chapter now that their children are in college.
Kate has found rewarding work as a English teacher at a public school. Greg is dissatisfied with his job as a financial trader and longs for more meaning in his life. Their household is turned upside down when Greg brings home a stray dog named Sylvia (Madeline Moeller).
Greg immediately falls head over heels in love with the dog, while Kate has serious reservations. She doesn’t want a pet at this stage in their lives and disapproves of how childish Greg acts around Sylvia.
Greg’s devotion to his new best friend begins to jeopardize his job and put stress on his marriage. He escapes work early and stays out late to take long walks with Sylvia. Feeling more energized and youthful, Greg tells his dog, “You take me back in some basic way.”
Meanwhile, Kate grows exceedingly jealous of Greg’s overzealous attention to Sylvia. She shares her feelings with socialite girlfriend, Phyllis (Earnest Roberts in drag). At the park, Greg meets dog owner Tom (Roberts again), who gives puzzling but insightful advice on marriage and pets.
Tension builds between the couple which leads to a visit to a peculiar therapist named Leslie (also Roberts), during which it becomes clear that Greg is obsessed with Sylvia.
Eventually, Kate gives Greg an ultimatum when she accepts a teaching opportunity in London. England imposes a six-month quarantine for dogs from out of the country, so Greg must decide whether to go with Kate or stay behind with Sylvia.
Animal lovers will enjoy “Sylvia,” which embraces the wonder of having a family pet. However, the play digs deeper into the realities of aging, the quest for true happiness and the need for compromise in a marriage. “Sylvia” expertly explores these issues with remarkable humor and tenderness.
Moeller is superb as Sylvia. Through a very physical performance that is also sassy, sensual and effortless, she hilariously captures a dog’s personality.
Norum and Saunders portray Greg and Kate with great depth and amusing sarcasm. Roberts capably handles the challenging task of playing three odd and very diverse characters.
Set designer David Linfield situates “Sylvia” in a warm and friendly Manhattan apartment. Costume designer Randal Sumabat cleverly clothes Moeller in a slinky black outfit to represent a black Labrador-poodle mix.
Smooth jazz music creates a sentimental mood before each new scene with such songs as “Blue Moon” and “Funny Valentine.” The play’s sound operator is Pam Hester.
Kevin Harris designed the lighting.
“Sylvia” is a sweet, endearing comedy packed with wisdom and grace. It barks with purpose and wags with joy.
7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through September 6
San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo
$15 to $30
786-2440 or www.slolittletheatre.org