Howling with 'Sylvia'

Friday, May 9, 2003

Lots of owners tell their dogs to speak, but the Sylvia in "Sylvia" really is quite fluent in English. In reality of this play nobody thinks there's anything unusual about that, certainly not Sylvia.

Those who do and those who don't love dogs will recognize themselves on stage in the River City Players' new production. Everybody who can laugh at themselves and suspend their disbelief for an hour and a half is almost guaranteed a wonderful time.

Written by A.R. Gurney of "Love Letters" fame, "Sylvia" opens a two-weekend run tonight at the River City Yacht Club.

The star of the show, Sylvia (Meg Ervin), is part Labrador, part poodle. "She's multicultural," enthuses Greg (Bart Elfrink), who has just found her in the park. Sylvia adores Greg. Greg adores Sylvia. Enter Kate (Tana Howard), Greg's wife, who foresees Sylvia making a literal mess of their well-ordered lives. Kate wants to send Sylvia to the pound and calls her Saliva.

Sylvia is unapologetic for wanting and doing the things dogs do. Dressed in a brown, formless costume, Ervin is cute and cuddly in the role, only her second for the RCP, but she also gleefully makes the role fully dimensional when Sylvia gets boy crazy. The show does contain a bit of spicy language.

"Sylvia" is full of laughs, but if it were just a play about the antics of a dog who can talk it might be hard to keep caring. "Sylvia" is really a play about the dynamics within a relationship. In mid-life, Greg is dissatisfied with his job and philosophizing about the meaning of the night sky. Kate's career is skyrocketing.

Their feelings toward Sylvia are expressions of their own needs from each other.

Matthew Frey, a Notre Dame High School alumnus, is very good as Tom, the fellow dog owner who has lots of advice for Greg about the love triangle that can develop between a man, his dog and his wife.

Meredith Elfrink, Bart's real-life wife, plays Phyllis, Kate's old friend from college, who's trying to give up alcohol but has a relapse after encountering Sylvia.

Southeast Missouri State University student Cynthia Luttrull plays a therapist who tries to help the couple sort out these issues, but she of course has issues of her own.

This is a terrific cast in a very entertaining play. Howard's return to a River City Players production after some years of absence is particularly welcome. Bart Elfrink is so natural on stage that it's easy to forget how good he is.

The show is well directed by Dr. Roseanna Whitlow, an assistant professor at Southeast Missouri State University. She has broken up the scene changes with affectionate tunes from the 1960s and 1970s.

Tim Roth has devised a simple but inviting apartment set. Kate Kruse and Elle Anders are the assistant directors.

335-6611, extension 182

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