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DOGGONE RELATIONSHIP

Peter S. Hadres stars as Greg and Stephanie Philo plays the title dog ‘Sylvia.’
Peter S. Hadres stars as Greg and Stephanie Philo plays the title dog ‘Sylvia.’ PHOTO BY CLINT BERSUCH

Sylvia” is a domestic comedy about a love triangle. Greg is a middle-aged man bored with his life and his job, winding down, and Kate, his wife, an empty nester, is excited about her new freedom and her new career and aiming upward.

Then Sylvia, a sweet young thing, comes into their life — and disrupts it. So what else is new?

The affectionate female that captures Greg’s affections is a dog—not figuratively, but literally. He brings Sylvia, whose name was on her collar, home from the park one day, where he had been playing hooky from work.

Playwright A.R. Gurney is known for his focus on the angst of the upper middle class, and he tends to make mountains out of molehills — fortunately, in this case, with plenty of comic entertainment. It’s a play that can be really corny and even boring — and I’ve seen some of those—but in the hands of PCPA Theaterfest and director Patricia M. Troxel, it’s a hoot with a message.

Sylvia is always played by a cute, charming young woman, and Stephanie Philo has nailed the role with all the right doggie moves. She wags and wiggles, barks and frolics, often gazing adoringly into Greg’s eyes, and she goes from two legs to four with ease. She also talks to Greg and Kate, and they talk back— Greg sweetly, Kate with disdain. Sylvia’s costume is hard to describe, but it works. Juliane Starks is costume designer.

Peter S. Hadres plays the bewitched Greg like a kid with a new toy, oblivious to his wife’s serious objections and, eventually, jealousy that threatens their marriage.

Catalina Maynard is Kate, the obvious villain in the story, but she manages to make her character somewhat sympathetic. After all, she had embarked on her new life plan and thought her dog days were over. She calls the dog Saliva. She teaches Shakespeare to middle school students in inner city schools and often ends scenes with an appropriate quote from The Bard.

The funniest guy in the show is Richard Gallegos, who plays three different characters— one a macho man, one a woman, and one an androgynous mystery.

He is Tom, who Greg meets at the dog park, owner of Bowser, a golden retriever that turns Sylvia on. He warns Greg that “if you give a dog a woman’s name you start thinking of her as a woman.” He’s full of such pseudo dog psychology, some of which fits Greg and Sylvia’s passionate relationship.

With some strategic padding and costuming, Gallegos becomes Phyllis, an old college friend of Kate’s, who is terrorized by Sylvia’s overeager affections. She sympathizes with Kate, as her husband has a special relationship with goldfish.

The audience really laughed at Gallegos’ role as Leslie, the analyst who counsels Greg and Kate and lets patients choose which gender they want their analyst to be.

Though this isn’t a musical, there is appropriate background music to set the mood for some scenes, and a highlight is a song sung by Greg, Kate and Sylvia: “Every time you say goodbye, I die a little. …”

The play is cute and funny, but beneath it all is the playwright’s dig at the middle class, and it comes from the dog. Sylvia reminds Kate that all the emotion and crisis, almost divorce, was about a dog. She cites real affairs, even murder, over infidelity. So what’s the big deal?

In her notes, director Troxel mentions that what it’s really about is a certain time of life. In the play it’s called the time between thoughts of retirement and fear of the nursing home.

But the message is a minor element in the comedy. People who love dogs will probably appreciate the play best.

There are two versions of the play, one of which is more family friendly. This one is adult-oriented, with adult language, and even sex (although it’s doggie sex).

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