Director Kristianne Kurner has created an energetic evening of theater with A.R. Gurney Jr.’s play about a man and his dog — oh, and his wife.
I’m being facetious by suggesting that the wife is forgotten, because that’s the basic premise of this show. Greg (Darren Scott) and Kate (Saverina Scopelleti) are recent empty nesters who have moved out of the suburbs and into New York City. One day, Greg comes home with a dog he found at the park, a dog Kate does not want them to keep, and “Aye, there’s the rub.” As Kate would say, “Hamlet? Act three, scene 1?”
Scott and Scopelleti do a fine job representing an aging couple coming to terms with their changing lives, although at times they seem to struggle to hold the audience’s attention when playing opposite the rest of the cast.
Samantha Ginn plays Sylvia, the energetic and affectionate dog, and is a theatrical force to be reckoned with. Her nonstop dynamism explodes repeatedly and precisely, to the point where the audience is left thinking, “She can’t possibly do anything else that will be as funny and/or shocking as what she just did.” But she can, and does. Ginn is phenomenal in this demanding role as a human/animal hybrid and a pure delight to watch. If there is one reason to see this show, it is Ginn.
If a second reason is needed, it is to behold the comic mastery of Tony Houck. He plays everyone else, from a boisterous dog owner to a New York socialite, and even an androgynous New Wave therapist. All his characters are nuanced and thoroughly amusing. The audience perks up every time he walks onto the stage.
Unfortunately, Sylvia feels like Gurney trying to deal with, or rather justify, his own midlife crisis. I wanted the play to surprise me by being a sort of feminist empowerment piece, justifying Ginn as Sylvia, licking, panting, and dry humping. By the end I was disappointed to discover that it was just a woman onstage dressed provocatively and behaving as an animal for our voyeuristic enjoyment.
Instead of the play rising to say something provocative and interesting about relationship dynamics, it ends up only being about a middle-aged heterosexual white man constantly getting what he wants, even when the women around him (human or animal) attempt to take a stand for what they want.
Overall, the high-energy, joke-throwing power of this production may very well be as good a staging as you may see. It’s a hard show to pull off, and this cast delivers. But the stellar performances by these fine actors only serve to highlight the weaknesses and outdated social priorities this play holds to be somehow acceptable.