Review by Jonathan Stewart
Sylvia begins as the story of a man and his dog and progresses into a comedic reflection on change, marriage, and middle aged life. The play opens with Greg (Erskine Smith), a middle class/middle aged New York office worker, bringing a stray dog home. The stray is Sylvia (Mia Ingimundson) and Greg has no idea what changes his pet will bring. There is an instant connection between them; Greg and Sylvia chat and converse and dream together as soon as the show begins. The funniest bits of the show come from exchanges like this. The play's characters interact and converse with Sylvia but she is still very much a canine.
Greg's wife Kate is less then happy with Greg returning with a new pet and this apprehension about Sylvia grows in Kate. Sylvia becomes the answer to all of Greg's problems: he skips work to be with her, talks of her constantly, showers affection on his pet in a way he never did on his wife. Kate becomes more miserable as Greg and Sylvia become closer. A lesser play would use Kate as just a comic foil; here Kate is fully rounded and sympathetic character. The play's dramatic tension comes from Kate's realization that Sylvia won't work in her life-she will have to separate her from Greg. Often the most frantic of Sylvia's clever humour comes from the scenes with Josh Weale; who plays three different characters throughout: a dog owner who Greg meets at the park, an old friend of Kate's, and a marriage counselor who is trying to heal the rift the pet has made between Greg and Kate.
The humour is quick and smart and never makes a gimmick of the speaking mutt. The jokes sometimes involve some pretty strong language but it does not come out in a vulgar context. The performances are spot on-the ease and comfort that the cast banters with is admirable. The only major problem of the show is that the second act often retreads much of the material present in the first. One watches thinking that the characters have had these same arguments and insights already. In total Sylvia is another sly and funny show from the Victoria Playhouse-don't throw this show to the dogs.