Sylvia is a dog played by a woman; just roll over and accept it
PET PEEVES: Reba Short, as Sylvia, comes
between the husband and wife who adopt her
(Craig Ela and Heather Weafer).
Here's a plot-line for the ages. Man meets dog. Man falls for dog. Dog fulfills Man's primal and aggressively subtextual needs. And Woman will have none of it. Thus the anthro- and zoological archetypes (or, one might reasonably claim, stereotypes) at work on middle-aged empty-nesters Greg (Craig Ela) and Kate (Heather Weafer), in Sylvia. This A. R. Gurney comedy, directed by Al Miller for the Theater Project, is the tale of a stray dog and the havoc she wreaks upon the marriage and household furnishings of a disillusioned Wall Street advisor and his over-zealous English–teacher wife.
The key conceit to all this? Anthropomorphization. Because the role of Sylvia is written as an actual woman (originally Sarah Jessica Parker; here the vigorous and booming Reba Short), we're treated not only to heightened psycho-analytic undertones, but to a verbalization of the dog's side of the conversation. Sometimes this is amusingly crass ("Hey, kitty, you're a sack of shit!"). Other times, Sylvia's comments send up noteworthy canine traits ("Well, out of sight, out of mind; let's move on" as kitty is so equably forgotten that it might never have existed). A particularly smart dog-to-English translation is of that the bark: "Hey!" becomes Sylvia's sharp warning, when strangers approach or that sack-of-shit cat is hanging out under a bush. "Hey Hey Hey!" It's a clever touch on Gurney's part, and Short performs it comically and with convincing anthro-doggy verisimilitude.
In fact, Short does a lot of terrific physical work as she transmogrifies canine mannerisms into human ones — her heaving chest, her slack-jawed stare of assessment or worry, her happy bounds and aggro straining at the leash. She's got a great handle on the range of states of a dog's mind, from beaming, snuggly, and unconditionally adoring, to flushed, imperious, and dead-set on fucking Bowser at the park.
Her costuming, designed on the cartoonish side by Wendy Poole, supports this range — from street-urchin garb and work boots, when she's first picked up, to slutty off-the-shoulder shirts and overalls, to a "glamorous" black evening dress that still has the scent of the stray about it. Curvy and forceful in these get-ups, Short has an aggressive bearing on stage, and this goes a long way toward helping us appreciate both Greg's helpless ardor and Kate's horror at having had her space invaded. There can be no ignoring Sylvia's presence when she nuzzles up to either half of the couple.
|Sylvia | By A.R. Gurney | Directed by Al Miller | Produced by The Theater Project, in Brunswick | Through July 29 | 207. 729.8584|
And the couple, of course, suffers. As Greg and Kate, Ela and Weafer illustrate the sort of frustrated married rapport in which each knows but doesn't understand what the hell's going on in the other's head. There are enough quizzical, infuriated, and helpless looks cast to let us see that the failures of communication between them might as well be between two species.
, Sarah Jessica Parker, Heather Weafer, Reba Short, More