The Gurney Twist Gives New Look To ‘Sylvia’

The story of a man and his dog is supposed to be one of the classic sources of thought and literature, but rarely has it been treated as it has been by playwright A.R. Gurney.

His play ”Sylvia” is a new look at that relationship altogether, and it’s playing right now, at the Robert L. Scharmann Theatre, at Jamestown Community College.

The plot concerns a couple whose lives are just shifting to a completely new basis. Their children have all left home for college and adult life. They have sold the large house in the suburbs and moved to a fashionable apartment in New York City.

Kate, after many years of night school and days as a soccer mom, has now started a career as a teacher. She loves her job and for the first time feels professional and important in her own right. Greg, meanwhile has found his job in the money market is changing in ways that means he hates going to work. And then, Greg brings home a dog, and everything changes.

The dog’s name is Sylvia, and she is beautiful. She comes when Greg calls. His actions and decisions are her only concern, just at a time when Kate is moving out more on her own.

Gurney’s twist is that Sylvia is played by a lovely actress. We see not only her actions as we would normally, but we hear her thoughts and her reactions spoken right out to us. Increasingly, Greg finds himself enjoying his time with his dog far more than he does with his wife.

Director Robert T. Schlick has given this production a rapid, yet smooth pacing. The characters know who they are and they interact believably – or at least as believably as they can, since one of them is supposed to be a dog. It was interesting how quickly we got past that small piece of the ridiculous and just accepted the truth of what we were seeing.

Vince Joy and Kristina Benson had excellent timing as the central couple. It was a very good job of acting.

Crin Fredrickson was remarkable as the dog. She got her laughs, yet she made her character believable and involving. The audience could only care what happened to her, and that was important. She deserves a puppy treat, for certain.

Malachi Livermore played a vast range of short roles, offering outsiders’ views of this curious family. Three cheers for how eagerly and effectively he entered into the demands of each character he played.

A fifth character in the very successful evening was the set, designed by Steven Gustafson. The fact that everything was on sliders, and moved on and off the stage in a matter of moments played a big role in how the play’s necessary forward momentum was able to be captured. It was very attractive, too.

”Sylvia” is bright. It’s funny and entertaining, yet it is involving as well. This is a very fine production, and well worth your attention.

You can see it Friday, Saturday, and March 22 and 23, at 8 p.m. There is an additional matinee at 2 p.m. on March 24. There are shows on almost every stage in our area right now, and this one is one of the best.