"Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished."
-- Dean Koontz
I know a few people who don't like dogs and I've also met some who don't like chocolate, rainbows or red wine so perhaps Sylvia, which opened tonight at the Cort Theatre isn't for everyone but it most certainly is a crowd pleaser.
Greg (Matthew Broderick) finds a dog -- Sylvia - (Annaleigh Ashford) in the park and brings her home as a way to ease the pain of his mid-life crisis. His kids have just left the nest and his wife Kate (Julie White) is hoping to spend time at museums, dinner parties and Knicks games instead of being tethered to a dog, so this is - to say the least - a huge disruption in their lives. The show's gimmick - and brilliant comic opportunity for Ashford - is that the dog has the ability to speak and is fond of cursing like a longshoreman and being a wise-ass. Sylvia disrupts Greg's marriage, his job and relationships with others but also exposes him to what author A.R. Gurney describes as a truly democratic experience.
Broderick is a wonderful straight man and compliments Ashford's amazing performance, which is a truly unique comic turn, as she somehow makes the title character completely believable. Robert Sella plays three wildly different roles (a man, a woman and a person of questionable gender) and hits a comedic home run each time. Julie White is a wonderful actress with a tough role as the difficult wife who dislikes an adorable dog, but she manages to never miss an opportunity for a laugh. Unfortunately, she and Broderick lack chemistry and that is my only problem with an otherwise enjoyable and fun theatrical experience. Gurney wrote the show in 1995, and it still takes place then, so the politically correct may be offended at times.
I think that Sylvia is more than a wacky romantic triangle about a husband, a wife and a dog. It's also about love, relationships, instinct, loyalty and life's vagaries as well as complexities, but don't dig too deep because more than anything it's a very funny show. Those of us who own or have owned dogs will most certainly laugh and nod our heads throughout the play, but non dog owners can also enjoy it.
"The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs."
--Charles de Gaulle