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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Barking Good Time to be Had at
Seattle Rep's Sprightly Sylvia

Sylvia
Linda K. Morris and Alban Dennis
Given the fact that my spouse and I occasionally get into (mild) arguments over the behavior and upbringing of our pet cat Kitty Carlisle (yes I am old enough to have been a "To Tell The Truth" fan), the premise of a stray dog upsetting an already delicate balance in a mid-life Manhattan couple's life as portrayed in A.R. Gurney's fanciful Sylvia may ring truer to me than perhaps it would to a non-pet owner. Seattle Repertory Theatre staged the only other production I have ever attended in 1996, and then leading man R. Hamilton Wright directs the Rep's 2011 re-do. A civilized if somewhat sedate amusement, as I recall of 15 years back, is now often laugh-out-loud funny, thanks primarily to Wright's emphasis on the laughter, and his casting of three out of four of its cast members.

Husband Greg finds and brings home a puddle of love, the mixed breed dog named Sylvia (her name is on a tag found on her collar), and it's an instant love-match openly disdained by his educator/budding authoress wife Kate. Sylvia (who talks to the couple as a dramatic device, not as a figure of enchantment) is an overly gregarious, often horny young lady, and the more time and allowances Greg makes for her, the more it rankles Kate, who was just settling into that post kids in the house time of life. A grant that would allow for Kate to enhance her career in London, but necessitate Sylvia finding a new home, is not something a recently unemployed Greg really wants to consider. But Sylvia manages to have a happy, if bittersweet, end for all three principal players.

Once one gets past the shock of seeing that Alban Dennis, once a regular at playing children and young men at Seattle Children's, is now mature enough (and with a receding hairline) to play a man in middle-aged angst, he does so with aplomb. But Dennis' Greg is primarily Wilbur Post to Linda K. Morris' Sylvia (or Mr. Ed if you will). Ms. Morris goes to the dogs so letter-perfectly in every detail, that about 10 minutes in, you swear she was the passionate title pooch. Regretfully, Mari Nelson as Kate starts out pissed at having a pampered pooch share her home, and grows ever grumpier, until in a final twist she shows a sympathetic side. This doesn't cripple the production badly, however, and director Wright found a real ace in the hole with the splendid Darragh Keenan to essay three vastly different people in the couple's life: a "man's man" fellow dog owner who Greg meets on Sylvia's walks; a pretentious lady-friend of Kate's, who is so undone by Sylvia's gregarious playfulness that her sobriety is at stake; and perhaps best of all, a sexually non-specific analyst named Leslie whom Kate drags Greg to for counseling.

The couple's home, Central Park, the couple counselor's office, and other locales are marvelously captured by set designer Carey Wong, with complementary lighting design by L. B Morse. Costume designer Melanie Taylor Burgess has found ideal garb (love the analyst's outfit right out of Woody Allen's Sleeper) for man, woman and mutt alike. And finally, Music Director/Vocal Arranger Robert Scherzer has chosen perfectly mood-setting musical transitions of classic Manhattan flavored melodies, including a lovely chance for the couple to harmonize to a Cole Porter charmer. "Every time we say goodbye I cry, a little." You will probably cry, a little. You should laugh, a lot.

Sylvia runs through December 11, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle; Tickets are $12-$64. For reservations and more information call 206-443-2222 or visit www.seattlerep.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David Edward Hughes



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