Doggy Style 

Boiler Room's Sylvia proves fairly entertaining, talking dog and all

Boiler Room's Sylvia proves fairly entertaining, talking dog and all

Sylvia

Presented by Boiler Room Theatre

Through July 24 at The Factory at Franklin

A.R. Gurney's Sylvia has been performed frequently since it debuted in New York in 1995 with Sarah Jessica Parker in the title role. Boiler Room Theatre opened its new version last weekend, and if the local populace hasn't had enough of it by October, they can head down to TPAC to see Tennessee Repertory Theatre's forthcoming rendition.

Maybe it'll go over big twice in the Nashville area. It's about a dog, after all, and between the dog-walkers in Shelby Park and their embattled brethren in Sevier Park, there oughta be an avid built-in audience.

Sylvia, of course, is no average dog. She comes into the life of Manhattan empty-nesters Greg and Kate, and—verbally gifted canine that she is—forces them, unwittingly, to deal with hard issues about their marriage. The conceit of a talking dog (one who barks four-letter words, no less) is not as hokey as it sounds. In fact, this is a fairly witty comedy much of the time. It's a little precious, too, however, and one is best advised to look for the jokes, appreciate them, and otherwise not think too much.

Lauri Bright is BRT's precocious pooch, and she's bright-eyed and self-aware as can be. (She even references The Odyssey—what a good dog!) Phil Perry-Dixon is Greg, who gets the ball rolling by rescuing the stray and then begins a relationship with her, as if she's the mistress that a middle-aged man might yearn for when he suddenly loses interest in his investment job and begins to wonder what life is all about. Greg meets a fellow dog-owner named Tom, who fills him in on what it means when a man shares untoward feelings with a canine companion: trouble at home.

Meanwhile, high school English teacher Kate (Laura Green) spends most of her time shooing Sylvia off the couch and sharing her angst about hubby's odd obsession with a trusted friend, Phyllis, and an asexual therapist named Leslie.

Eventually, there's a happy, if somewhat bittersweet, ending. (Come to think of it, commited dog-lovers might find it tragic.) At any rate, once you get past the preposterous setup, the overreaching in-jokes about Ethan Frome and former New York Times and PBS journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, and the doggy double entendres, you have a somewhat entertaining show.

Under Lane Wright's direction, Dixon alternately frets about his midlife psyche and swoons when Sylvia enters the room, projecting a personality that puts him in a league with mediocre, if somewhat lovable, TV sitcom husbands. Green plays the aggrieved wife with appropriate sobriety, unblinklingly rejecting her spouse's fey notion that they engage with Sylvia as a threesome. (Thankfully, the sexual implications remain only that.) The three supporting roles are all played by one actor—Douglas Goodman—which is the way playwright Gurney wrote it. Goodman is best as the rough-hewn dog-walker Tom. He's Stuart Smalley-funny as the gender-neutral Leslie. As Phyllis, he goes for the total drag routine with gusto; he gets laughs, and yet there's something a little tedious about this particular gimmick, with the actor's comic turn ultimately calling undue attention to itself at the sacrifice of the story.

For a fanciful domestic comedy hinging on the twee personification of a dog, Sylvia has a surprising amount of strong language. It may look all warm and fuzzy on the outside, yet, unlike most family pets, this one isn't exactly for the kiddies. But on balance, the production's not a bad effort. Later on in the year, it'll be of legit interest to see if the Rep can win the blue ribbon for best in show.

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