Sylvia - Elizabeth Ahlfors
Annaleigh Ashford and Matthew Broderick. Photo by Joan Marcus.
138 West 48 St. NYC
Preview: Oct. 2, 2015. Opened: Oct. 27, 2015. Closes: Jan. 24, 2015
Two hours, 5 minutes. One intermission
Reviewed October 2015
"Hey, hey, hey, hey!" Annaleigh Ashford finds the bone and steals the show in the revival of Sylvia, a slight, warm comedy by A.R. Gurney. She plays Sylvia, a lab/poodle mix who has no people manners. She dives into women's crotches, rubs her itchy butt against the carpet, slobbers and chews shoes. Yet she makes her way into the heart of her owner, Greg, played by Matthew Broderick.
Greg was taking a break from the office when he found Sylvia wandering in Central Park and takes her home. When his wife, Kate (Julie White) returns after work, she is flummoxed at the sight of her husband (who should have been at work) in their living room with his shaggy new best friend. Thus begins a struggle between Greg, who is tired of his job, his life, and feels neglected by his wife, Kate, a middle-school teacher who is perfectly comfortable after downsizing from a suburban house to an Upper West Side apartment. Now, a dog! The last thing she wants is a dog and with the kids in college and a challenging new job, she stands firm, insisting, “The dog phase of my life is over.”
Greg, however, has discovered in Sylvia the answer to what he's been missing. Kate already found her new focus for the second stage of her life, while Greg had lost his passion for anything and feels empty. Now here's Sylvia, lavishing adulation on him and who can resist that? Not Greg.
In perfect casting, Matthew Broderick is low-keyed portraying the laconic Greg in his midlife crisis. He is so clueless that he considers his devotion to Sylvia as perfectly normal and he finds a friend in the park (Robert Sella) who feels the same. It takes Greg some time to realize that she is an animal with primitive instincts.
Julie White is razor sharp highlighting Kate's bewilderment at her husband's attachment to Sylvia. This later turns to impatience and jealousy and finally their marriage is at risk. White balances her firm line-in-the-sand with incomprehension. Robert Sella pumps up the humor playing three hilariously over-the-top supporting roles, Greg's park pal, who tells him everything he has to know about dogs, Kate's very social East Side friend, and a gender-optional marriage counselor.
The charm of the play, however, is Ashford who rules the theater in her furry costume by Ann Roth, limber with physical comedy and facial communication. running up and down the aisles, leaping on Greg and declaring her every thought in dog speak. Gurney reads Sylvia's mind and translates her thoughts to English, Ashford adding wide eyes and restless, quivering body. She adores Greg unconditionally. "I think you're God," she tells him in her slabbery way. Ashford (last seen in You Can't Take It With You) is incredibly.
The second act begins to lag but under Daniel Sullivan's smooth direction and primo casting, reality is firmly set aside for Gurney's Greg/Sylvia conceit. The set by David Rockwell is colorful, made brighter with lighting by Japhy Weideman. Ann Roth's costumes are contemporary for the humans but her fluffy dog design for Ashford is the standout.
Sylvia, A.R. Gurney's veering into fantasy is best enjoyed as that, straight for laughs.
This review also appears in Totaltheater.com