BWW Review: SYLVIA at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre
On Friday, August 23, I had the pleasure of seeing the A.R. Gurney comedy SYLVIA at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre in Berlin, CT. Director Kris McMurray has yet again found an excellent play to produce, and the perfect cast to perform the characters. The highly entertained packed house at this opening night of Connecticut Cabaret Theatre's first show of its 22nd year reflects the consistency of first rate shows that audiences have come to expect at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre.
The set depicts a living room with an exit to a bedroom, and another exit leading outside. Flawless scene changes allow for the set to be transformed to a park, and then back to the living room, back and forth, very meticulously as the show goes on. The far front of stage right is occasionally used, while the scenery changes on the main part of the stage.
The fourth wall does not get broken in terms of direct interaction with the audience, but the character Sylvia (Ashley Ayala) makes some exits into the audience, and entrances from the audience, while two other characters Greg (Michael Gilbride) and Tom (Dave Wall) converse on stage, looking outwards as if what they are seeing is taking place in or just behind the audience. Michael Gilbride and Dave Wall are very convincing in what they are claiming to witness, scenes enhanced by the sound effect of barking noises, supposedly coming from Tom's dog named Bowser.
The story centers on a dog named Sylvia who has been taken in by a married couple named Greg and Kate (Barbara Horan), who are middle aged with all their children away in college. Greg is not a huge fan of his job or his boss, but Kate enjoys her profession, teaching Shakespeare to inner city middle school children. Set in New York, Greg found Sylvia in the park and brought her home, much to the chagrin of Kate who had no desire for a dog at that point in her life. Greg's attachment to Sylvia soon becomes a huge obstacle in his marriage with Kate. Michael Gilbride and Barbara Horan have excellent stage chemistry, creating the feel of a real married couple.
What makes this play truly unique is that the role of Sylvia, the dog, is performed by a human. Ashley Ayala is spectacular in this role, and looks like she is having a wonderful time performing this character. Ashley Ayala excels at deliberately imitating dog mannerisms, while delivering convincing speaking lines that are designed to reflect a dog's thoughts, but beyond, since Greg and Kate carry on back and forth conversations with Sylvia. The deeply held feelings of Greg, Kate, and Sylvia are all conveyed through the dialogue. The concept is brilliant, with the performance masterful. Of particular significance, you do not have to like dogs at all to tremendously enjoy this production.
While this play is not a musical, there is a musical number performed by Ashley Ayala, Michael Gilbride, and Barbara Horan, with the accompaniment of highly talented CJ Janis, live on piano.
Carleigh Schultz provides a strong performance as Phyllis, who is Kate's snooty friend. Phyllis is an amusing character, known for Freudian slips and a pompous attitude. It is to Phyllis who Kate vents her frustration with Greg's obsession with Sylvia. Carleigh Schultz provides believable reactions in her conversations with Kate, talks that are chronically interrupted by Kate complaining about Sylvia and about Greg's attitude towards Sylvia.
Dave Wall is double cast, bringing two different roles to life. The first is the aforementioned role of Tom, who Greg encounters at the park. Tom is obsessed with his own male dog named Bowser, and has some unusual theories, acquired from some strange books he has read written by authors of questionable motives and sanity. Regardless, Greg is very receptive of the zany theories that Tom provides. The second role that Dave Wall plays is Leslie, some kind of counselor of highly dubious credentials, who also has some deranged theories and dangerous conclusions. Greg is more receptive than Kate, of what Leslie has to say. Leslie, however, does address the often overlooked male need to be needed and respected, and believes that Greg's obsession with Sylvia is rooted in that need that he does not feel is otherwise being fulfilled.
As the show goes on, it is obvious that Greg has truly gone off the deep end in his obsession with Sylvia, to the point where he is essentially viewing the bond he has with Sylvia as one only appropriate towards a wife, daughter, or younger sister. The human portrayal of Sylvia accurately reflects the delusional mind of Greg, as well as the valid and justifiable degree of jealousy felt by Kate.
The comedic elements hit their peek when Sylvia sees a cat in the distance and candidly expresses her honest feelings of absolute hatred towards that cat, using words that I can not repeat. The hatred is on general principles and not rooted in anything that particular cat has done.
Will Greg and Kate divorce over Sylvia? If Kate provides Greg with the ultimatum of either she or Sylvia, will Greg choose his wife or his dog? Will Greg be happy with his decision? Will Greg seek the psychological help he clearly needs, with someone legitimately qualified and certified to provide valid help? Come to the show to find out! The positive reactions of this packed house, throughout the entire production, show that my extreme enjoyment of this show is shared throughout the audience.
For mature audience members, I highly recommend SYLVIA which is scheduled to continue to run at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre in Berlin, CT, every Friday and Saturday night at 8:00 PM through September 28, 2019, with the exceptions of August 30th and August 31st, when there will be no performances. For tickets, please call the box office at 860-829-1248.