A review by Alan Smason

Monday October 08, 07
by Alan Smason,

To a dog, the world might be simply divided into three sets. First, there would be two groups: those who do not own pets and those who are cat owners. The rest would be dog owners. With all due respect to the former two, "Sylvia" is a romantic comedy that is largely meant to be enjoyed by the latter. That's not to suggest that cat owners wouldn't appreciate a great deal of what there is to "Sylvia." It's just that dog owners get it right away. They understand the nuances in a dog-owner relationship -- subtleties that are different in relationships with other pets.
Written by A. R. Gurney, "Sylvia" was first produced in 1995 at the Manhattan Theatre Club, when the title role of the dog, Sylvia, was portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker, with Blythe Danner and Charles Kimbrough playing Kate and Greg, her owners. In Gurney's world, both humans and dog communicate directly with one another. It is a play that is largely about relationships, both human and canine, and compromise.
Director Benjamin Clement chose his student actors well when he cast the Loyola University production currently playing in the Lower Depths Theatre. Cast in the title role is Rebecca Hollingsworth, an absolute delight as the dog who is both the center of attention and affection and the cause of resentment and jealousy. The role of Sylvia runs the gamut of emotions as can only be displayed by an affectionate, playful, cranky, steadfast, promiscuous, loving, obstinate and difficult pet. When she becomes agitated, her voice rings out in high-pitched barks. When she is scolded, she becomes submissive. When she thinks she can get away with something she desires, she pushes the envelope. Any dog owner will appreciate just how dead on Hollingsworth's performance is.
When Greg (Patrick Anthony) initially encounters Sylvia, there is an instant rapport and connection between the two. He brings the dog to his empty-nest home and his wife Kate (Anna Toujas) who, despite major objections, reluctantly agrees to let him keep the animal "for a few days."
Days become weeks and weeks become months. The issue of Sylvia staying at their Manhattan apartment begins to threaten their two-decades old marriage. Greg cites his boring job and abusive boss as excuses to take off afternoons and spend more and more time in the park with his faithful companion. Eventually, he is in great peril of losing all that the couple has achieved in life. His frantic wife is forced to bring the issue to a head and confronts both her husband and his pet. Anthony and Toujas play their roles purposely, although I was looking for a bit more sparks between the two during the confrontation scenes.
One of the most hilarious scenes occurs in the second act when Kate seeks out professional counseling from Leslie (Erin Iafelice). Iafelice's wonderful deadpan delivery in a German accent makes her sexually ambiguous character a real scene-stealer. Likewise, Lewis Baker’s role of Tom, a street-wise dog owner who advises Greg on how to handle Sylvia and his marriage, is quite likeable. The cast is nicely rounded out by Phyllis (Lauren Guillot), who withstands more affection than she desires from the excitable canine in a visit to the apartment.
Although the program suggests the length of the play with intermission is 90 minutes, it actually runs close to two hours. The good news is that the show is so nicely done that one doesn't mind the extra length. Aside from Clement's work as director, technical nods should be given to Artistic Director Georgia Gresham for her lighting design, Kylle Arnold for hair and make-up, and Kellie Grengs for costume designs, especially those made for Sylvia.
"Sylvia" continues its run October 11-13 at 8:00 p.m.