Working at BarkPost is a joy for many reasons. There are tons of dogs running around to remind you not to take life too seriously, your pup gets to test out BarkBox toys on the regular, and, best of all, you get to spread the now scientific-study-approved gospel that dogs DO have feelings, like love and jealousy, that are on par with the human experience.
Playwright A.R. Gurney would make one heck of a BarkPost writer, if he ever decided to take a break from, y’know, Broadway. The revival of his play, Sylvia, is a heartfelt and hilarious look at the ways your life changes when a dog bounds into it like a heat-seeking missile of furry chaos and joy.
In Sylvia, Greg (Matthew Broderick) eases the existential pain of his onsetting mid-life crisis by taking up with a beautiful young blonde – it’s just that in Greg’s case, the blonde he becomes obsessed with is a Poodle-mix named Sylvia. As recent empty nesters, his wife Kate (Julie White) had plans for travel and nights out on the town, not being kept on a short leash by Sylvia (Annaleigh Ashford). Robert Stella does triple-duty as Greg’s dog park confidante, Kate’s friend Phyllis, and the hilariously ambiguous marriage counselor, Leslie.
Though it’s a laugh-a-minute comedy, Sylvia also takes an honest look at the complex nature of love and loyalty. Greg and Kate are forced to examine their life and relationship goals and whether Sylvia actually fits into that picture or not. The difference for them, as opposed to regular dog owners, is that their pup Sylvia definitely has something to say about the matter – and all other matters!
In Ashford’s paws, the title role of Sylvia is a hilarious mix of charm, sass, and, occasionally, the mouth of a sailor. As a gifted comedienne, she absolutely nails the physical quirks of a pup, from the tactical mounting of a forbidden couch to the deadpan delivery of inner monologue we all suspect/hope our dogs have (“I think you’re God, if you want to know.”).
As someone who spends her whole day around pups, I was impressed that it never for a second felt like Ashford’s dog interpretation fell into a cliché of dog behavior. In fact, Ashford went to great lengths to craft her endearing performance, including attending agility classes with her Toy Aussie, Gracie, reading books about animal psyche and behavior like “Animals in Translation” by Temple Grandin, and doing chakra work to move more authentically like a dog.
Even though the influence of being a dog owner might be most easily spotted in Ashford’s performance, the fact that the playwright and the other actors in the this kooky man-wife-dog “love triangle” are dog people radiates from the piece. Pup lovers everywhere will recognize the nuances of a dog-person relationship, and, as White puts it, “Even if you’re not a dog lover or animal lover, if you have some kind of compassion in your heart, you’ll be moved.”
Sylvia runs from October 27th, 2015 to January 24th, 2016 at The Court Theater. 38 West 48th Street, New York, New York 10036.