The Brown County playhouse has brought back some professional regulars and a current IU faculty member to make up an exceptionally strong cast for A.R. Gurney's domestic comedy Sylvia. Area theatre goers may remember the unique Gurney touch from the Brown County production of Later Life and the Oasis production of Love Letters.
Rob Johansen plays, Greg, a man who is stuck at the end of a more and more empty career somewhere before the "hint of retirement" and a ways ahead of "the whiff of the nursing home." His children are out of the house and his marriage to Kate, Diane Kondrat, is as stuck as his career.
In the midst of one of Greg's aimless visits to the park a dog literally leaps into his lap. The dog is Sylvia, Sarah Louise Turner. Here is something new, something real, something that focuses entirely on him and in the way that dog's can, loves him entirely and completely.
Greg is ready for a dog, especially this kind of dog. Kate, enjoying the freedom of a New York apartment and embarking on a career of her own is not and it's a not with a capital "n," "o," "t." The rest of the play explores how Sylvia fits into Greg and Kate's lives and visa versa. The fit is far from easy and the results are sometimes insightful, sometimes touching and often very funny. A.R Gurney has done a great job with the dialogues that present a believable inner life of a dog and an even more believable innerlife of a man. I thought the story was cute and the first act a brilliant creation. The second act has a lot of great moments, but I did find myself getting too bogged down in the babble of pop psychology.
"Sylvia" succeeds or fails on the success of the woman playing the lead role.Sarah Louise Turner makes a wonderful dog. Whether she was frisking about, guiltily sitting on the forbidden sofa , warmly overcome by dog passion or going slightly psycho in pursuit of a cat, Turner was a winsome delight. Special mention should go to costume designer Ansley Valentine who made Sylvia the best dressed of dogs.
Rob Johansen was his usual excellent self as Greg, the man who has been gradually moved from production and sales to increasingly less meaningful business ventures and finds himself through his relation with the dog. Diane Kondrat handled the somewhat thankless role of the stiff wife, Kate, with aplomb. IU faculty member and frequent Brown County director Bruce Burgun was very good as Tom the insightful fellow dog walker, as Phyllis the successful society lady and just enough "over the top" as Leslie the therapist of the mysterious gender.
The fluent direction is by Bill Kinkaid. I. Christopher Berg designed the upscale New York apartment and the smooth lighting and sound support was by Marie Shakespeare.
The Brown County Playhouse of A.R. Gurney's Sylvia continues Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through October twenty-first.