BWW Review: SYLVIA at Newport Playhouse And Cabaret Restaurant
From the moment she takes the stage, Olivia M. Sahlin is absolutely engaging in the title role of Sylvia, in the current production of the A. R. Gurney play at the Newport Playhouse & Cabaret Restaurant in Newport, R.I., part of its 35th anniversary season.
Sahlin plays the stray dog in this funny, but poignant, tale whose appearance is the catalyst for the trouble a mid-life couple faces with a newly empty nest and a move to New York City.
Sahlin's performance is energetic, focused and convincing. She takes the audience earnestly through a full range of Sylvia's canine emotions-adoring, hurt, exuberant and nearly wild when she's off-the leash and in season.
The velvet-voiced Rick Bagley is endearing as Greg, the disillusioned executive who finds Sylvia in the park and brings her home to apartment he shares with Kate, played by Pamela Gill. Bagley's Greg is hopelessly smitten with Sylvia in a way that any dog lover will understand and any dog disliker will recognize.
Elegant and eloquent, Gill's acting seems effortless as she portrays the heavy in this drama, whose only guilt is wanting to pursue the noble dream she had to put on hold while they raised a family in this suburbs - that of teaching Shakespeare in the inner city. She recognizes the kink Sylvia throws into those plans and some of the most intense scenes are when Kate and Sylvia go head to head.
This trio of fine performances is joined by that of the show's director Michael Johnson, who does quadruple duty in this show. In addition to directing, he also portrayed-through quick-change transformations-Greg's dog-park friend, Tom; Kate's well-heeled lady-who-lunches friend, Phyllis; and the kooky therapist Kate turns to for help. Johnson is a gem. He is a pure delight to watch, portraying each character to its fullest comedic potential.
The set is minimal, but it quickly fades into the background because the performances are so fine, the action well paced and the story so engaging.
Overall the experience at the Newport Playhouse is like a well-planned date: It begins with dinner - in this case a generous buffet. There's no need to worry about getting to the theatre on time, because it's in the next room. And after there's no wondering about what's open after the show because the audience returns to the dining room for a lively cabaret.
After a change into chic eveningwear, cast members Bagley, Johnson and Sahlin reappeared for the cabaret. That night they were joined on the cabaret stage by an expanded cabaret cast that included Emily Charleton, Rebecca Cunha Christie, Sandra Nicastro, and Katrina Rossi, musicians Kyle Medeiros, and Mich Muller, and Newport Playhouse president Jonathan Perry who preformed a duo of country western tunes that had the audience singing along.
Performed from the heart, the cabaret was engaging and sweet. Emily Charlton's solo was particularly superb. And the lightning-fast skits were a hoot.
Sylvia runs until November 18 at the Newport Playhouse, 102 J.T. Connell Highway, Newport, R.I. Visit the newportplayhouse.com for more information.