By John Quinn
Hilberry opens season with ‘shaggy dog’ love story
If you’re unprepared for it, Scene One of “Sylvia” can be startling. A woman clad in nondescript browns bounds onto the stage wearing dog collar and knee pads. She’s followed by a guy with a leash. Quivering with delight, she crouches on the floor at his feet. It’s like walking into Diamond Jim’s Saloon on Fetish Night. Never fear – the Hilberry isn’t getting kinky, just quirky. Sylvia really IS a dog. Playwright A. R. Gurney’s screwball little comedy opened at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1995 with Sarah Jessica Parker as Sylvia and was an instant success.
Greg and Kate are at a time of life when people take stock with their lives. Their kids are grown and they’ve moved into a Manhattan apartment. Kate’s post-motherhood career is on the rise, but Greg, facing mid-life crisis, is unhappy in his work. While many men in the same boat buy red sports cars, Greg returns from the park with a stray dog that’s attached herself to him. Well, Sylvia is no mistress, but even an inter-species love triangle has the ladies at odds with one another. Did I mention that Sylvia speaks? She can both understand and talk to the people in her life.
Christopher M. Bohan and Carly Germany turn in polished performances as Greg and Kate. It’s too bad that Gurney has saddled Kate with some really clunky lines – the more wearing of which are her Shakespearian quotes at the end of scenes. Couple that with her instant and unreasonable dislike of the dog, and Kate – not Sylvia – comes off as the bitch.
Clearly having fun here is Sean Ward, in three minor roles. Starting as rather odd dog owner Tom, he dons wig and pumps as Kate’s friend Phyllis, only to change to sensible flats as the androgynous therapist Lesley.
David Court’s set design, a combination of long horizontal lines and towering verticals, nicely captures the air of a New York high-rise.
But the life of this play is the performance of Tiffanie Kilgast in the title role. Whether leaping onto the white couch or humping a visitor’s leg, Kilgast has the physical portrayal of a canny canine down pat. Gurney’s scripted “bone mots” (sorry, couldn’t resist) are pretty much what dog owners imagine pets would say if they could talk, and they are indeed entertaining. In one of the play’s funniest scenes, Sylvia screams curses at a cat that’s just beyond the range of her leash. The invective is scathing.
It is unusual, though, that this slobbering wet kiss of a play should run out of zip in the end. One can pretty much anticipate the denouement early in the second act, and we’re set up for a real “feel good” final curtain. No matter. One needn’t like dogs to like “Sylvia.”
“Sylvia” plays in Repertory at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit, through Dec. 1. Tickets: $20-$28. 313-577-2972. http://www.theatre.wayne.edu
The Bottom Line: Getting past the contrived plot elements is easy for the pet owners among us, so “Sylvia” is a “doggone” good time.
TIDBITS: Theater News from Around Town
Night’s Out in Lansing; The 313 is back; Halloween costumes
By Donald V. Calamia
ITEM: Looking for a night out in Lansing? Then why not head over to the BoarsHead Theatre Oct.19 for its second NIGHT’S OUT event of the season!
Members of the LGBT community are invited to join with Suits in the City and The Grand River Connection to mix and mingle and meet new friends.
The evening begins at 7 p.m. with a performance of the ingenious murder musical, “No Way to Treat a Lady,” a co-production of the BoarsHead and Meadow Brook Theatres. Following the play will be an afterglow reception.
The BoarsHead Theatre is located at 425 S. Grand Avenue in downtown Lansing.
For tickets and information, call the BoarsHead Box Office at 517-484-7805.
ITEM: They’re back! That popular gang of improvisers known as The 313 is back Oct. 14 for another fun-filled visit, but not in the 313.
Instead, Larry Joe Campbell and company are traveling to the 734 where they’ll stage their unique brand of long-form improv and short videos at the ever popular Improv Inferno in Ann Arbor.
Joining Larry Joe will be Andy Cobb (“The Family Guy”), Joshua and Nyima Funk (MTV’s “Wild’ N Out”) and Marc Evan Jackson (VH-1’s “ILL-ustrated” and “BSTV”).
“I’m really excited, as it’s an honor to have improvisers and performers of this skill and stature performing at our club,” said Improv Inferno Artistic Director Dan Izzo. “I really want to be able to present new and interesting comedy at the Inferno, and The 313 is that. Improv is really asserting itself as the acting school of the 21st century, and funny, exciting and dedicated professional groups like The 313 are very much a part of that. With the credentials they have they could really just sit back and rest on their laurels and never think about improv again. Instead they’re continuing to improvise and trying to make it a vital and important part of their creative and professional careers. They’re also a vital part of the Detroit improv scene. Practically every improviser in Detroit knows who they are, and they serve as a real inspiration of how far you can go as an improviser.”
Two shows are scheduled for the evening of Friday, Oct. 14: 8 p.m. ($15) and 10 p.m. ($20). Reservations are strongly recommended.
Improv Inferno is located at 309 S. Main Street in Ann Arbor.
For tickets and information, call 734-214-7080.
ITEM: Just in time for Halloween, Stagecrafters is hosting a costume sale on Saturday, Oct. 22 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Baldwin Theatre.
A wide variety of past costumes and accessories from past shows will be available for purchase. Proceeds will go to benefit Stagecrafters’ programs.
The Baldwin Theatre is located at 415 S. Lafayette in Royal Oak.
For complete information, call 248-541-8027.