July 16, 2011 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall.
Sitting in audience of the Fitzpatrick stage at the Berkshire Theatre Festival for the opening of A. R. Gurney’s Sylvia, I found myself remembering an evening many years ago when Gurney a yet untried playwright came to see what our little play-reading group would do in a staged reading of one of his plays in our little black-box theatre off Main Street. Our group was founded by Bill Gibson and carried on by Jane Mooney.
In the forty or more years that have elapsed since that eventful night, details have gone hazy. Gurney was unknown to any of us. He was was an affable and not condescending young man, scarcely middle-aged, who drove in from Boston with a family play, perhaps about the Buffalo area. Gurney viewed our production, listened to suggestions and praises, then drove off into the night. A young man, knowing where he wanted to go.
How brilliantly he has gotten there!
Silvia is a gem; one of the many gems he has created over the years!
The plot centers around a family crisis. Greg (David Adkins) and Kate (Jurian Hughes) are empty nesters with their kids off to college and the couple settled in a NY apartment where Greg’s career is winding down and Kate’s is picking up.
And into their life Greg brings Sylvia, another woman whom he has picked up in Central Park and whom he expects Kate to welcome into a ménage a trois, further complicated by the fact that Sylvia is an enormous bouncy stray dog, dog tag bearing only her name, her breed a mix, seemingly, of Lab and Poodle, and a great deal of bounce and pounce, and audacity.
Sylvia not only pees on Kate’s rug, she ASSUMES she could sit on Kate’s couch. Marriage in jeopardy. A serious situation for Kate and Greg but an absolutely hilarious one for the audience with laugh lines coming so fast one misses a few. And it is not only the dialog that is hilarious. The uneasy trio members all have to be athletes, very often not on their feet and being dragged in directions they don’t want to go.
Director Andres Cato’s guiding hand has rung every possible variation on the production—timing and pace, scenes flowing seamlessly after each other, moods shifting from hilarious to touching, or “naughty,” or unexpected.
Sylvia, (Rachel Ray Jones) and her costumes, from bedraggled in the park to preeningly wooing when in heat she meets Buster in the park, are gloriously seductive. And she knows it. Jones seems to have literally climbed into Sylvia by donning her clothes, Her bite is usually restrained but her bark is utterly remarkable.
Adkins is convincingly unaware of the sacrifice he is asking of his wife. His sudden love for Sylvia, giving a meaning to his days in a time when he has lost meaning and confidence, seems to him reasonable.
Hughes as the wife, expected to accept without a struggle her husband’s aberrations, is sympathetic, resourceful and willing eventually to bend but not break. It is she that at a strategic moment finds and tosses the red ball.
The versatile Walter Hudson plays three supporting roles, necessary in plot development in the park or the psychiatrist’s office, each with panache.
The New York skyline set, assisted by lighting affects in evoking the park on the apron, and changing color for mood changes in plot, is effective.
All this adds up to asserting that over the years Gurney has continued to write play after play, success after success.
Sylvia is an especially delightful one.
As for the rest of those long ago hopefuls performing in the black box theatre, I haven’t a clue. But it’s nice to remember that we performed early Gurney, and in Stockbridge!