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Doggie treat

PCPA's Sylvia offers a howlingly funny night at the theater

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- PUPPY LOVE :  Sylvia (Stephanie Philo) shows some unconditional love for her new owner, Greg (Peter S. Hadres). -  - PHOTO COURTESY CLIN BERSUCH/PCPA THEATERFEST
  • PHOTO COURTESY CLIN BERSUCH/PCPA THEATERFEST
  • PUPPY LOVE : Sylvia (Stephanie Philo) shows some unconditional love for her new owner, Greg (Peter S. Hadres).
I have to admit I was a little skeptical about whether or not Sylvia would be any good. The Drama Desk Award-winning play puts an unusual twist on the ever-popular plot device of a love triangle between a man and the two women competing for his heart; this time, one of the women is a dog.

Here’s a quick synopsis: One day, middle-aged, middle-class Manhattanite Greg (Peter S. Hadres) brings home Sylvia (Stephanie Philo), a street-smart Poodle mix he’s found in the park. Bogged down by trouble at work, Greg is instantly smitten with Sylvia and her zeal for life. Greg’s wife Kate (Catalina Maynard), however, is none too pleased with the idea of owning a dog again. Sylvia soon becomes a rival for Greg’s affection, and Kate is shocked to find that “the other woman” threatening her 22-year marriage is not the expected stilettoed trollop, but a four-legged, crotch-sniffing canine.

Don’t get me wrong—I love dogs. I swoon over puppies just as much as the next girl (heck, probably even more), but there’s something I just don’t buy about people playing pets. Blame it on my days performing as Sheep No. 2 in my church’s production of Noah’s Ark.

- SEE SYLVIA:  PCPA’s production of A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia runs through July 3 at the Marian Theater in Santa Maria, with show times at 2 and 7 p.m., and July 9 to 25 at the Festival Theater in Solvang, with show times at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $26.25 to $28.25 in Santa Maria and $29.25 to $33 in Solvang. The performance is not recommended for small children. - For more information, call the box office at 922-8313 or visit pcpa.org. -
  • SEE SYLVIA: PCPA’s production of A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia runs through July 3 at the Marian Theater in Santa Maria, with show times at 2 and 7 p.m., and July 9 to 25 at the Festival Theater in Solvang, with show times at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $26.25 to $28.25 in Santa Maria and $29.25 to $33 in Solvang. The performance is not recommended for small children. For more information, call the box office at 922-8313 or visit pcpa.org.
Luckily, except for a somewhat nauseating doggie talk-style announcement at the beginning of the play telling the audience to “sit” and “stay” like a “good girl,” PCPA’s rendition of Sylvia doesn’t veer into cheesy Altar Guild territory. Rather, it offers a delightfully hilarious commentary on the complexities of life, marriage, and even pet ownership.

In this respect, kudos have to go to costume designer Juliane Starks, who subtly captures Sylvia’s canine characteristics with a fuzzy, brown vest; heart-shaped dog tag and choker; and leather dog harness. No shaggy dog costumes here, thank you! Sylvia—or, as Kate calls her, Saliva—also sports some adorable bows in her hair whenever Greg takes her to the groomer. Coupled with the mini skirt that displays what Greg calls her “cute little butt,” it’s easy to see why Kate gets jealous. Yes, we’re still talking about a dog here.

Under the direction of Patricia M. Troxel, Philo slides seamlessly back and forth between adorable pup and near-human muse. At one point, when Philo lies by the couch chewing on Kate’s beloved copy of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, I swear I saw Poodle hairs starting to sprout. And in another scene at the park, Philo uproariously answers the question every dog owner wants to know: “Why do dogs love to chase cats?”

- DOGS WILL BE DOGS:  Sylvia gnaws on Kate’s copy of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. -  - PHOTO COURTESY CLIN BERSUCH/PCPA THEATERFEST
  • PHOTO COURTESY CLIN BERSUCH/PCPA THEATERFEST
  • DOGS WILL BE DOGS: Sylvia gnaws on Kate’s copy of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well.
“Hey, hey, HEY!” Philo barks. “What’s that under the car? It’s a cat!”

“You stink, Kitty! ... You're a sack of shit! Up yours with a 10-foot pole!” she growls toward the audience, her body straining mightily against her leash. “You’re a disgrace to the Animal Kingdom!”

Philo’s castmates Hadres and Maynard both do an amiable job as Sylvia’s owners, Greg and Kate. Their portrayal of a couple transitioning into middle age is quite believable, as are their affection for and exasperation with each other. I also thoroughly enjoyed watching Maynard orchestrate Kate’s unraveling from Shakespeare-spouting professional to jealous harpie wife, who literally wrestles Sylvia to the floor in an act of canine-esque dominance.

And all three players are in top form when the Sylvia-Greg-Kate triangle comes together for a rousing—and quite ridiculous—rendition of Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye.”

Likewise, ample praise must go to the scene-stealing Richard Gallegos, who is billed only as “Man,” but shows up throughout the play as three very distinct characters. First, there’s said man, the fellow dog owner who warns Greg about the dangers of getting too close to one’s dog. Gallegos then swaps the Brooklyn accent and macho demeanor for the Upper East Side drawl and refined flair of Phyllis, a friend from Kate’s days at Vassar. Over several glasses of scotch, the ladies commiserate about their husbands’ bizarre preoccupations with animals.

- THE OTHER WOMAN:  Phyllis (Richard Gallegos) and Kate (Catalina Maynard) commiserate over their husbands’ strange affections for their pets. -  - PHOTO COURTESY CLIN BERSUCH/PCPA THEATERFEST
  • PHOTO COURTESY CLIN BERSUCH/PCPA THEATERFEST
  • THE OTHER WOMAN: Phyllis (Richard Gallegos) and Kate (Catalina Maynard) commiserate over their husbands’ strange affections for their pets.
“Hamilton has taken up goldfish,” Gallegos laments. “He would never admit it, but I swear he takes them into the bathtub with him.”

Gallegos shows up once more as Leslie, Kate and Greg’s sexually ambivalent marital counselor. Swiveling expertly in a rolly chair and gesticulating wildly, Gallegos takes what could have been a stereotype or throwaway role and makes it pure gold.

 Of course, a good portion of the credit must go to Gurney himself. Except for an extremely out-of-place line from Greg about careers being a “phase women are going through these days,” the writing is witty and very relatable. In fact, it’s the ability to relate to the audience that I find most charming about this play. Anyone who has ever loved a pet (perhaps a little too much) or fed a similar obsession can see him or herself in Greg. And anyone who has ever tolerated a loved one’s obsession can see him or herself in Kate. And then there’s Sylvia, the fun-loving, tail-chasing mutt who reminds us all: What’s life without a little playtime and a good friend with whom to share it?

Amy Asman, who is News Editor of New Times’ sister newspaper Santa Maria Sun, wants a dog. Send breed recommendations to her at aasman@santamariasun.com.

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