8/9/2019         SYLVIA                                  CenterStage North

         
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE ...

 

(Bias Alert:  I have worked with CenterStage North and most of this cast and crew before, and, while it is true that I can be a bit strict with CSN shows, I tend to view the work of this cast and crew through approval-tinted glasses.)

 

(Sloth Alert:  I have seen and reviewed numerous productions of this play, so a good deal of this is plagiarized and tweaked from my “template.”)

 

Funny Story ---

 

For the past {mumble mumble} decades, I have been an unreformed "Cat Person," much preferring the purring sedative of a warm-fuzzy moggie to the frantic stimulant of a (shudder) dog.  So, in my many previous exposures to A.R. Gurney's Sylvia, I have been left in the cold, yawning at the lead character Greg's obsession with the admittedly winsome Sylvia.  He prefers this mongrel to his wife of {mumble mumble} decades?  Yeah, right!

 

Of, course, for the past six years, our affectionate and (spoiled) Papillon, Cindy Lou, has taken over our lives, and our evil-kitty Stiles has a mean streak that results in too many headless “gifts” on our front porch.    Can I adopt a dog and be so affected?

From the dim recesses of my denial, all I can mumble is, well ....

 

Which is to say that CenterStage North’s production of Sylvia is the second time I've really LIKED this play.**  Which, I'm sure, has everything to do with the excellence of the production, and absolutely NOTHING to do with my own (ahem) changed circumstances,  After all, we critics know that theatre is to be objectively analyzed, since it is axiomatic that audiences bring absolutely nothing to the process of theatrical interaction. (Insert ironically snarky emoji here).

 

To recap, A.R. Gurney's Sylvia is a 1995 comedy in which an actress plays the dog that slips into Greg and Kate's empty nest.  She is a limpid-eyed beauty who steals Greg's heart and time and passion, leaving Kate in a WTF? cloud of dust.  The humans have reached that stage of their long marriage in which "something new" turns them (well Kate) somewhat blue.  For Greg and Sylvia, it's happily ever after.  For Kate and Sylvia, it's no-holds-barred war.

 

There are some aspects of this script I've always found a bit hard to accept.  A session with a gender-unspecific marriage counselor always strikes me as singularly forced and contrived, and a song late in the show (the standard "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye") often stops the play dead in its tracks. Thankfully, CSN has chosen to cut the song, but the counselor scene still grates (a bit), though contemporary gender-neutrality obsessions (and LeeAnna Lambert’s wonderfully over-the-top performance) make it seem much less contrived.

 

Okay, maybe Ned Thurman’s Greg was a bit more monochromatic and soft-spoken than I'd prefer, but, (also maybe) that reaction was more due to the over-the-top appeal of Jessie Kuiper’s Sylvia than anything Mr. Thurman did (or failed to do).  I'm sure that Ms. Kuiper’s Sylvia would make any performance opposite her seem soft-spoken and monochromatic (I want a year’s supply of whatever energy drink she uses to rev herself up).  Credit also Julie Forbes Resh for making Kate less a shrew than can sometimes happen.  It's easy to see how this marriage has lasted for so long, and why Greg makes the choices he ultimately makes.

 

And, okay, maybe Set Designer Jeff Costello’s set does not integrate the out-of-the-apartment scenes as well as other productions; in fact, Leslie’s office scene was played in the main living room set, with throw blankets (not) disguising Greg and Kate’s furniture, and the airport scene was played on two free-standing chairs placed inches from the house left front row.  Still, most of the play takes place in the apartment, so this criticism is NOT a "show-stopper.”

 

And, okay, maybe having a portrait of Sylvia as the Show’s poster and program cover lessens the impact of the ending.  But you know what?  We've spent so much quality time with Greg and Sylvia that the “reveal” still packs a heckuv an emotional punch.  This play still hunts!

 

One aspect worth noting -- traditionally, Sylvia is dressed in a shaggy (dare I say "doglike?") sweater throughout.  Here, the (uncredited) costumer starts her out that way but dares to "dress her up" as she gets more domesticated, even "slinks her up" when she's about to meet some new people.  Not very doglike, but then, neither is the actress's face, so, so what?  The idea works, and that should be the "bottom line."

 

So, it's easy to say "The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same" in regard to Sylvia.  After all, I still think it's a script with problems mitigated by a wonderful central conceit, despite my (ahem) late-in-life transition from Ailurophilia to Cynophilia (I still won't describe myself as a --shudder -- "dog-lover" – at least not in English).  But I really did like it this time, and I LOVED Ms. Kuiper’s drop-dead-perfect performance.

 

This dog of a show is anything but a dog of a show!


     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy    #CSNSylvia)

 

** Some may recognize much of this review from my comments on Stage Door Player’s 2015 production.  BTW, this is the second time CSN has produced this play, the first being in 2005.  I’d like to say that that production fell squarely in my “don’t like the play” period, but my wife directed it and I did the lights.  Let’s just say that enough years have passed that comparisons are pointless, and memories are unreliable.

© 2023 by Glorify. Proudly created with Wix.com