From left: Shane Frampton, Mark Blackledge and Jessica Foix in SYLVIA at Melbourne Civic Theatre. Photo by Max Thornton.
By PAM HARBAUGH
There are laughs aplenty and even big of heart-tugging poignancy at MCT’s “Sylvia.” Just hope you can find tickets.
Written by A.R. Gurney, the play moves swiftly and with confident ease thanks to the direction of MCT’s Peg Girard and a cast that brings the big guns of emotion to the stage.
The play’s conceit is that a dog is played by a woman who engages in dialogue with her owners. In it, a middle-aged man, Greg, is rather adopted by a stray dog with a tag that reads “Sylvia.” Greg’s wife, Kate, is not at all pleased with Greg’s attachment to Sylvia and actually has feelings of jealousy.
The play was first produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1995. Then, it starred Sarah Jessica Parker as Sylvia. It didn’t find its way to Broadway until 2015 when, interestingly, it starred Matthew Broderick, Parker’s husband, as Greg.
Here, though, at MCT, the cast is as good as it gets anywhere.
Mark Blackledge is at his very best, ever, in the role of Greg. Now pretty much an MCT “veteran” actor, Blackledge is at such ease on stage that he can relax and disappear into his role. He is so believable as Greg, a man who loves his wife but finds fresh joy in this new pet that brings color into his now monotone life. He brings humor and frustration and, eventually, tremendous poignancy to the stage. His is a performance not to be missed.
And so too is that of Jessica Foix, who nails the naïve, uninhibited and highly energetic, tail wagging “hey, hey, hey-ing” of Sylvia. She is, well, adorable in the role. It’s hers. Period. No others need apply.
Those who know the work of Shane Frampton will delight in her portrayal of Kate, the beleaguered wife who deals with dog hair, chewed high heels, and missing books. Frampton does not play “the heavy” here. Instead, we understand her character’s frustrations and believe her desire to have her husband back to where he once was.
And you might as well bring the hankies for the end of the show. It’s got quite the payoff.
Rounding out the cast is Rob Kenna, who plays a trio of people – a no-nonsense New York dog owner, a high society lady and a gender fluid psychoanalyst, which rather knits up the “woman as dog” conceit. Adopting distinct mannerisms for each, Kenna is hysterical in all three of these roles.
Scenic/lighting designer Alan Selby takes a smart approach for his work in “Sylvia.” The story is set mostly in Greg and Kate’s New York City apartment but also takes the action into a park, an airport and a psychoanalyst’s office.
To facilitate all that, Selby has created a city skyline and added a park bench to one side of MCT’s small playing area.
For the profanity-sensitive: There is strong adult language in the show, but it’s all uttered by Sylvia, especially when she becomes enraged at a cat. In a strange way, it just becomes funny and not really offensive.
SIDE O’ GRITS: SYLVIA runs through Feb. 24 at Melbourne Civic Theatre, 817 E. Strawbridge Ave., Melbourne, FL. Tickets are $31 general and $29 seniors. Tickets are going fast. The theater has already added a couple of shows. Call 321-723-6935, visit MyMCT.org or simply click on their ad.
This is an edited version of a story running soon in the Melbourne Beachsider.