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Review: Playcrafters' "Sylvia"

Who’s a good dog? Who’s a good dog? Sylvia’s a good dog. Yes, she is – and so is Playcrafter’s current production of A. R. Gurney’s canine comedy: Sylvia expertly directed by Kathy Graham, who also acted as set dresser, which results in an absolutely charming production in one of the best sets I’ve seen at this venue.

This well-crafted script takes place in New York City where recent empty nesters Greg and Kate have relocated from the suburbs. Greg appears to be in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Extremely unhappy with his job in the world of finance and yearning for a more socially fulfilling career a stray pup with an ID tag of “Sylvia” befriends him at a local park. Greg is totally besotted by Sylvia and takes her home.

Kate, an English teacher at an inner city school, returns home to an exuberant welcome from the excitable Sylvia. Kate is not happy. Kate sees their move to the city as liberating them to enjoy urban amenities and despite having had dogs when they lived in the “burbs,” she doesn’t want one now. Greg is tone deaf to Kate’s objections and an argument ensues ending in a compromise to give Sylvia a trial run for a couple of weeks.

As Greg’s occupational angst grows, so does his obsession with Sylvia. He can barely take his attention away from his pooch, making Kate feel more and more insignificant to Greg. At the local dog park Greg meets Tom, another dog owner and a sort of amateur philosopher who cautions Greg not to let his affection for Sylvia replace Kate, citing his own struggle to remember to kiss his wife first when he returns home before greeting his dog.

The “trial run” stretches on and on. Kate bemoans her plight to best friend and socialite Phyllis and, finally, applies for and attains a grant to study in England , knowing full well that Sylvia will NOT be able to join her and Greg. The conflict that arises sends Kate and Greg to the androgynous marriage counselor, Leslie, whose advice to Kate will appall dog lovers everywhere. But don’t let that deter you. Stay tuned for the ending.

W. C. Fields once admonished to “never act with kids or dogs, they always upstage you.” Adrienne Jane Evans’ effervescent portrayal of the frolicsome Sylvia almost upstages the equally highly-talented Jeremy Mahr whose Greg is genuine and natural and the chemistry between them on stage is awesome to watch. Providing just the right balance to that vivacious energy is Carla Stevens as Kate with whom I – as a non-pet person – could most identify.

MASSIVE kudos go to Thayne Lamb, in his Playcrafters debut, who plays Tom, Phyllis AND Leslie and does them with amazing talent, Phyllis being the most impressive of three very impressive portrayals. He navigates walking in heels with ease and completely masters subtle feminine body posture. I can’t wait to see more of him in the Quad Cities theater scene.

Compliments also go out to the stage crew for their super sonic scene changes.

Sadly, there was one huge problem with this show. The audience only numbered around 30 and although this past weekend had multiple theater offerings I’ve noticed low audience numbers at all the venues I’ve been attending lately. The pandemic has hit local theater hard and I urge, urge, urge you to return to live theater. Whether or not you’re a dog lover, I guarantee you will LOVE this show.

Sylvia continues at Playcrafters Barn Theatre, 4950 – 35 th Avenue in Moline , Friday and Saturday, October 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, October 9 at 3:00 p.m.