Compass Rose Theater’s production of Sylvia is a surprisingly imaginative and charming comedy about the relationship between a man and his dog. A.R. Gurney’s 1995 play, in which middle-aged Greg takes in abandoned dog Sylvia, cleverly has a human play the dog’s role. Directed by Estelle Miller, the show is a fun way to open the new season.
Allison Meyer gives a remarkably convincing performance as the dog Sylvia. She whines when someone approaches the door, then joyfully exclaims when Greg appears. She is comically aggressive on seeing a cat, thrusting forward and cursing at it so that Greg has to hold her back. Sometimes she feels like a teenager, sullen, pouting, and yelling at situations she doesn’t like. She is affectionate toward Greg, laying her head near his leg and calling him “God” a few times.
Jim Murphy plays Greg with deep, philosophical yearnings. He bemoans his job as a currency trader, wanting a job that handles “real” things. He enjoys the late-night walks with Sylvia, seeing the city’s connections come alive then. He is playfully affectionate with Sylvia, petting her and teaching her tricks. In one emotional scene, he nearly chokes up while explaining a decision he’s made.
Michelle Wittrien gives a firmness to Kate, Greg’s wife. Instantly disliking Sylvia, Kate orders Sylvia off the sofa, declaring to Greg her desire, at this stage of her life, to be “free from dogs.” At one point she drags Sylvia back into the room, yelling at her and determined to drive her away; she ends up on the floor, face to face with Sylvia, nearly growling.
Steve Castrodad Pinzer gives a versatility to his multiple roles. As Greg’s dog park friend Tom, he offers colorful commentary on dogs and their male owners and the benefits of not spaying dogs. As Kate’s friend Phyllis, he laughs at his own Freudian slips and is comically terrified of Sylvia’s excited attentions. As marriage counselor Leslie, he is full of insightful observations on Greg’s attachment to Sylvia, then gives a hilarious reaction to Greg’s spirited defense.
Estelle Miller has designed an effective set, with a sofa and loveseat in the center, and a small writing desk and chair on the left. Paintings on the walls help create the feeling of a New York apartment. A bench comes out for park scenes. Costume Designers Estelle Miller and Susan Flynn have created outfits to help distinguish the characters. Sylvia begins the play in a ratty fur coat and torn sweats; after being groomed, she changes into a dark pink jumpsuit.
Lighting Designers Rory Saindon and Roger Paradis turn down the lights for late-night walks and darken half the stage for split-stage action. Sound Designer Olivia Martin has a piano playing for a singing number, as well as fashion-show–like music for Sylvia’s grooming and dogs barking. Estelle Miller does a great job as director. The actors hit all the right comedic moments as well as the more emotional ones. While some audience members might bring different associations to an actor on all fours and being petted, that adds to the comedy, and they are quickly charmed by the relationship. Sylvia is a delight for dog lovers and those uninterested alike.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including a 15-minute intermission
COVID Safety: Masks are optional in the building and theater.