Theater review: ‘Sylvia’ by Flat Rock Playhouse

A DOG'S LIFE: In the play 'Sylvia,' Michael MacCauley questions the concept of man's best friend when the titular canine (played by Keri Safran) takes over his life. Photo by Scott Treadway

Flat Rock Playhouse kicks off its 2019 season with A.R. Gurney’s comedic tale of a man and man’s best friend — the titular Sylvia. The show runs through Saturday, April 20.

Directed by Michael Kostroff, the play focuses on the intimacy between Greg and his empty-nest life with his wife, Kate. Greg brings home a stray dog in an to attempt to deal with his growing midlife crisis. Sylvia quickly consumes Greg’s life, becoming his singular focus and passion as he becomes disenchanted with his job and seeks an emotional lifeline.

Michael MacCauley plays Greg with a gentle ease that makes him both endearing and a bit tragic. His crisis is somewhat overlooked by his driven wife. Leslie Marie Collins inhabits the role of Kate so smoothly that we instantly are charmed by the bookish and passionate educator who is determined to bring Shakespeare into urban schools. She nearly misses the root of Greg’s problems as she focuses on her own emotional challenges, and she blames Sylvia for wreaking havoc in their lives.

As Sylvia, Keri Safran embodies the dog in this triangle with an appropriately hyperactive performance. She also takes on human qualities, which further highlight the “other woman” aspect that drives the subtext of the story. As such, Sylvia speaks to both Greg and Kate, which they seemingly understand. She is every bit as human as they are in that regard, though she moves about and maintains the typically short attention span of a dog.

There are struggles with whether or not Sylvia can sit on the sofa, and there are amusing encounters with an unseen cat that receives Sylvia’s instant ire, as well as a sexual awakening scene with another dog. As this action takes place offstage, we are only treated to Greg’s horrified commentary as he watches Sylvia and a dog named Bowser go at it in the local dog park.

Preston Dyar plays a variety of characters who come and go, offering some outside perspective on Greg and Kate’s life with Sylvia. He delivers a lot of laughs in each role, giving levity to what might otherwise be bogged down by an abstract central concept.

By the end of the production, we find ourselves relating to Kate’s growing frustration over her crumbling marriage and Greg’s affections toward Sylvia. We understand her pain and annoyance. We also end up as emotionally attached to Sylvia as Greg is. All three are on a collision course that could impact everyone’s lives permanently.

The show is a bit of a throwback. It feels like something from Neil Simon’s heyday when the shows had as much heart as humor. There’s even a Cole Porter musical number in the middle of the show that feels like a Bob Hope TV special from the early 1980s. The magical combo of wistful nostalgia mixed with a hint of the comically absurd makes this show is a charmer, whether the viewer is a dog lover or not.

WHAT: Sylvia
WHERE: Flat Rock Playhouse, 2661 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock,
WHEN: Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. $17-$54


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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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