Frederick’s ‘Sylvia’ brings Love with a Bark [REVIEW]


Sylvia, from renowned wordsmith A.R Gurney is a sharp, shrewd and seamlessly shifting bowl of kibbles that explores Woody Allen’s New York as if explained by “Marley and Me” author John Grogan at a dinner party hosted by David Lynch.  A mix of silly and dark, poetry and practicality, balanced by its cast and led by an inspired ball of energy otherwise known as Tanna Frederick.

The story starts quickly as the upscale condo’s front door opens, and in comes Tanna Frederick’s Sylvia looking distressed.  Ginger hair matted, dim demeanor and well…..just odd.  But her look doesn’t match her feel.  She curiously climbs and crawls, sniffing and investigating every nook and cranny she can find in her new home.

She is partnered by the mid-life homeowner named Greg who enjoys her playfulness, despite her serious need for a bath.  Soon enough Kate arrives, Greg’s wife, who from the moment she appears, has disdain for our crawly red-headed new friend.

See, Greg and Kate have a Upper West Side empty nest in New York City.  And while Kate is quite satisfied entering their Centrum Silver years, Greg has a void that he needs to fill.  Sylvia begins to soothe him in ways he hasn’t felt in years and he’ll lie to himself, his wife and others in order to keep this fun game going as it slowly takes over his life.  Every moment as Kate comes closer and closer to dropping the axe on this unconventional threesome, her traditional love abated by his empty excuses, keeps her going.

Through new romances, the bitter reality of heartbreak and the realization that comes with both, Greg learns what happens when you travel too far from home and try to return, things may never be the same again.  Or just different.  Kate might just learn to love the most unconventional part of her life and Sylvia… well she’s on a 7 times accelerated life journey.  But explaining how it all comes together would be spoiling an excellent yarn.

For those uninitiated with the premise, a suspension of belief is needed and a simple google search reveals why.  Sylvia is a dog.  Literally.  A furry friend.  A patronizing pet.  A stray casually adopted by Greg at the park.  As such, Frederick spends 96 minutes on all fours, and some time on her back, or scratching on her side.  The energy, fun and pet-wise unconditional love is a Grogan-inspired marathon of energy put forth by Frederick.

In many ways, the show is a traditional duet between a free-spirited soul and the stiff shade of gray counterpart who needs to find ways to let his freak flag flow.  Tanna Frederick and Stephen Howard need each other on stage as much as the characters they portray need each other to survive Gotham.  Their unique chemistry brings a dazzle that goes beyond a pet owner.  Moonlit walks, heartfelt conversations, betrayal, and the ultimate acceptance of how things need to be.  It becomes a relationship, quirky, but nonetheless.  There are shades, nuances, brief moments where a Lynchian perverse spin could occur bringing a very different twist to the plotline.  This doesn’t happen, but the wonders that Frederick works as-is, makes you long for the what-if.

Cathy Arden works hard to bring more dimension to “Kate” than just the lesser link in a quasi love triangle.   For nearly the first half of our story she’s only given the same few beats to play, but she builds a passionate foundation to those beats which allow for further exploration and ultimately a more satisfying conclusion.  Kudos.

Tom Ayers stretches for two very diverse roles.  The first, a fellow pet owner who ushers in blue collar words of wisdom for Greg when he needs it most.  And the second as a powerful friend of Kate’s who’s a scene-stealer bringing some of the funniest moments to an already very funny scene with Sylvia.

The show is toted as a comedy and that it is for sure.  With laughs and giggles routinely and big laughs sprinkled throughout.  But my emphasis is more on the story and performances that build from the narrative.  With Gurney’s sink or swim premise, this cast does more than doggy-paddle, they trot well-above the tide.

This is the second production I’ve seen at Venice’s Edgemar Center for the Arts which has long since built a reputation for strong productions despite being constrained by minimal budgets.  What you come to expect from Edgemar is passionate performances on a scale larger than you deserve.

Producer Alexandra Guarnieri doesn’t disappoint, maxing out the use of stage for interiors, exteriors and believable transitions.  Director Gary Imhoff tells a smooth story with a well-chosen cast.  The first half hits many beats with a casual feel.  However, the ending feels neutered with an unexpected pseudo solilquy that weakens the experience the production has nurtured up to that point.

The show is perfect for animal lovers and for those who love animal lovers.  Also fans of sharp comedies and daring, sometimes silly performances.

May 20th’s opening night gala fittingly benefitted the animal rescue charity New Leash on Life.
Shows continue through July 10.  Thurs, Fri and Sat at 7:30p,.  Sunday at 5pm
Tickets are $35
For more info and to purchase tickets visit Edgemar Center online