Sylvia has her Day!

Published: 25-Feb-2016 by All Theatre

Pymble Players’ Sylvia is like a romp in the park. But more tellingly, it’s a fun (and funny) exploration of how we, as humans, engage with man’s best friend.

When empty-nester Greg (Bob Guest) adopts a stray dog, we are immediately aware that Greg needs Sylvia, as much as she needs a home.

As Sylvia, Faith Jessel, bounds onto the stage and into Greg’s life, with a youthful exuberance, that is just the right tempo to lift the dissatisfied Greg out of his mid-life doldrums. Who could forget the image of Sylvia, bedraggled from the park, in a pink tutu, leaping onto the forbidden zone of the couch for the first time?

Sitting in the back row of the theatre, I could observe the middle-aged Greg basking in the glow of the adoration of his new canine companion. If Sylvia were a woman, she’d be “the other woman” without a doubt! So for Greg’s wife, Kate (Judy Jankovics), who is on the verge of a mid-life career breakthrough, Sylvia’s arrival (with fleas!) is annoying, at best.

Sylvia is an ensemble production. The nice thing is all six characters are so different (with three of them played by the one actor, Murray Fane.) 

As macho dog-owner, Tom, Fane is reckless in his advice to Greg.

“Let her play, then spay!”

Later Fane reinvents himself as Phyllis, a New York City socialite. This scene, with Fane playing a woman, is wickedly funny. Sylvia is badly behaved, and Phyllis, in a pleated skirt and tan heels, is delightfully downplayed.

For his final cameo, Fane plays an androgynous marriage counsellor, Leslie, with more than a hint of irony! 

Jessel’s Sylvia doesn’t waste a gesture. There is a lovely juxtaposition of dog and human, much of it scripted. Sylvia may be “just a dog”, but at the end it is painfully apparent there’s a keen mind behind the “limpid dog eyes”.

As Kate, Jankovics is quietly strong. Kate’s growing hatred of Sylvia makes for even more comedy. Ever the straight man in a comedic play, Kate is eventually brought down to the level of a dog at the end of Act One. 

As Greg, Guest brings warmth. We are reminded by Kate’s clunky laptop that Sylvia is a product of the 1990s, and Greg’s stance on his marital role is old-fashioned. But in a sense he could be any older person facing an uncertain future. As he is callously told at one point:

“You’re at a dangerous age, when there’s the hint of retirement, and the whiff of a nursing home.”

There’s also an everyman quality in the innocence of Greg’s relationship with Sylvia. Certainly, dog ownership is no walk in the park! If you’ve never owned a dog, you should see Sylvia. If you’ve ever owned a dog, you should see Sylvia.