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Going to the Dogs

Going to Th'dogs
Pat Kirk

Pet Peeved: Sylvia (Tina Jones) lets her new owner, Greg (Lawrence Hecht), know that there's more to life than chasing cats.

A man's best friend is his dog in San José Repertory's 'Sylvia'

By Anne Gelhaus

PLAYWRIGHT A.R. Gurney seems to have found his muse in midlife crisis, first with Later Life, which the San José Repertory Theatre staged last summer, and more recently with Sylvia, which the Rep is currently giving its West Coast premiere. Although Gurney's new play doesn't have much more to say about cresting life's hill than did his earlier work, he did find a creative way to present one man's slide down the other side: through the eyes of his dog.

When Greg (Lawrence Hecht) brings home Sylvia (Tina Jones), a stray he found in the park, wife Kate (Michelle Morain) immediately objects to the dog for a number of practical reasons: their Manhattan apartment is too small, the last of their kids has gone off to college, she's just starting her career and she wants to remain unencumbered. But underlying all this is Kate's recognition of Sylvia as the other woman, a dog as coarse as Kate is refined and as crass as she is cultured. Greg is so attracted by Sylvia's wild ways that it's easy to see why Kate is jealous of their relationship.

Jones' portrayal of Sylvia is an absolute treat. The lines Gurney scripted for her character are pretty much what dog owners imagine our pets would say if they could talk, and Jones delivers them to great comic effect. In one of the play's funniest scenes, Sylvia screams curses at a cat that's just beyond the range of her leash, leaving Greg to wonder how it would feel to do the same to his boss. Jones also has her canine mannerisms down cold. She barks out, "Hey!" when startled or excited and sniffs crotches and humps legs with abandon.

Hecht, for his part, makes Greg's infatuation with Sylvia humorous by playing it straight. Bored with his job and left to his own devices more often since his wife is working, Greg is thoroughly convinced that Sylvia will bring about his redemption. The laughs generated by his love affair with all things canine are bittersweet, though, since Greg recognizes the damage he's doing to his marriage but can't bring himself to break away.

That's what makes the play's happy ending seem so contrived and pat. After setting Greg up as a man with an unhealthy obsession, Gurney does a 180 and asks us to believe that it's Kate who's really at fault here. He has Sylvia give her a "caring means sharing" lecture that brings about Kate's change of heart, one that Morain doesn't seem too comfortable with in her performance. Gurney should be whacked on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for turning Kate into a convenient, last-minute villain.


Sylvia plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 5 and 9pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm and Wednesday, July 31, at noon through Aug. 4 at the Mayer Theatre, Santa Clara University, Lafayette and Franklin streets, Santa Clara. Tickets are $16.50­$28.50. (408/291-2255)

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From the July 18-24, 1996 issue of Metro

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