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Human Race Theatre Company’s “Sylvia” is a Very Good Girl

Review by Liz Eichler of “Sylvia”: Human Race Theatre

Spoiler alert!

No, I’m not going to give you the end of the play, but I am disclosing that I am a spoiler of my dog. I am a talker, a cajoler, a pick-up-and-carry-down-the-steps-and-put-in-the-grass-to-pee-because-she’s-too-tired dog mom.  I am the Food Lady, not to be confused with the Tall Girl, Walking Man, or Playing Boys. She’s sitting right next to me as I write this, whining for a treat…And now she has it.

I loved the Human Race Theatre Company’s “Sylvia.” Any dog and cat lover will love “Sylvia”, because it reflects who we are as pet owners.  Any audience will love Sylvia, the eponomously-named canine heroine, because of what actress Alex Sunderhaus brings to her portrayal—wit, energy, and a keen understanding of dogs. Did I say energy? Sylvia has the energy of a Jack Russell Terrier and exudes more love than any other character in any other play I’ve seen. (Please come up with possibilities! I’m blank and my dog is back staring at me!) She also turns on a dime and can curse a blue streak at a cat.

“Sylvia,” written by A.R. Gurney, was last produced by HRTC in 1997.  It is the story of Greg, a middle-aged New Yorker (Jason Podplesky) who meets a stray in the park and falls in love, bringing her home to his first love, wife Kate (Jen Joplin), who is past the care-giver stage in her life, raising multiple kids and prior animals (“I want my freedom from dogs”). So, there may be some animosity between the two (ok, the three) and a failure to communicate.  But Sylvia and Greg talk about anything and everything.  They have an understanding, an unbreakable bond, which is tested, such as when Sylvia meets Bowser.

Director Marya Spring Cordes keeps the show moving and cohesive. The cast is strong, yet as good as they all were, Sunderhaus steals the show and your heart. Podlesky shows his middle-aged angst and new found joy. Joplin creates a character energized by a new career, and we understand her resistance to Sylvia. Rory Sheridan plays three additional characters well, and with humor. The setting is strong, designed by Eric Moore, with a turntable exchanging key furniture, which enters and exits through a clever “doggy door.”  The costumes, by Jessica Pitcairn, are spot on, especially Sylvia’s, allowing her to scratch, shake, rollover, and run.

This play is a delight. Looking around at the audience, you could see so many happy smiling faces– throughout the show!  Just like a real pet, it is good for the blood pressure and relieving stress. And, just like real pets, sometimes their behavior is PG-13 or R rated (doesn’t your dog curse like a sailor at times?) “Sylvia” will make you sit, stay, and beg for more. For tickets, contact www.ticketcenterstage.com or call 937-228-3630.