APT’s ‘Sylvia’ a comedy intended for man and his best friend

APT’s ‘Sylvia’ a comedy intended for man and his best friend

“A man and his dog is a sacred relationship. What nature hath put together, let no woman put asunder.” — A.R. Gurne

“Sylvia” is a dog. No, the Arkansas Public Theatre production isn’t a bad show. The leading character, for whom the play is titled, is a dog — a stray brought home by a middle-aged guy named Greg who is bored and disconnected from both his life and his wife.

First produced Off-Broadway in 1995, the comedy was written by A.R. Gurney, who died in 2017 at the age of 86. His plays — among them “The Middle Ages,” “The Dining Room” and “The Cocktail Hour” — focused “on the quirks and barely concealed anxieties of the privileged class,” The New York Times said in his obituary. “In his hands, the conventions of the drawing-room comedy became the framework for social analysis. His astute observations were leavened with tart humor, and he was adept at using misunderstandings, either accidental or willful, as fuel for drama.”

“Sylvia,” The Times said in its review of the 2015 Broadway revival, “has a certain silly charm, a sweet message about making connections both human and non- and some nicely turned jokes,” and, as Gurney himself put it, reflects on “the need to connect in an increasingly alien and impersonal world.”

“Greg is stuck in a job he hates and doesn’t feel connected to the world. He finds this connection in a stray dog he brings home from the park,” APT veteran Michael Weir picks up the story of his character. “Sylvia gives Greg that sense of purpose and discovery he was lacking in his life.

“Greg and I have lived very different lives,” Weir adds, “but I think we’ve all reached those crossroads in our careers or in our personal lives where we face the choice to either stick it out or be bold and make a change.”

Rissa Webber, who debuted on the APT stage in “Survival of the Unfit,” plays Greg’s wife, Kate, “an ambitious woman who knows what she wants and will do anything and everything to get those goals accomplished. She likes things done a certain way and doesn’t like change.”

But, she adds, “I hope audiences leave talking about people’s ability to change. Kate and Greg both change by the end of the show in different ways, but the changes allow them to become closer. Everyone deserves an opportunity to change, and we as people need to give others a second chance to be the best version of themselves that they can be.”

Obviously, audiences are going to fall in love with Sylvia, played by APT newcomer Lily Jo Ayres.

“Seeing Lily perform as Sylvia is a joy,” says director Matt Etris. “Just imagine if your own dog could talk, and you could have full conversations with them, but at the same time, they have all the traits your lovable ‘man’s best friend’ has — from wanting to get on the couch to their stereotypical hatred of cats.”

“It’s hard to beat the moment when Sylvia lets a cat know exactly how she feels about it,” agrees Sam Ownbey, who plays a fellow dog lover named Tom. “I can’t help but die laughing every time I see it.”

Greg and Kate “are both middle-aged empty nesters living in a New York City apartment,” Etris elaborates. “The tension between the two increases as Greg becomes more attached to Sylvia. The ensemble cast brings a lot to the show as well, with an enormous amount of humor and shenanigans, as Greg meets Tom; and Kate’s best friend, Phyliss, played by Sara Patterson, comes to visit; and of course when another one of APT’s veterans, Andrea Lickfelt, portrays the therapist, Leslie, who attempts to help Kate and Greg, with a surprising and humorous outcome.”

“I think any pet owner will see some characteristics of their own furry friends,” says Lickfelt. “Or, even if you’re not an animal-lover, you’ve been to someone’s house where somehow their pet seems determined to win you over! I’ll admit, I’m a ‘cat person,’ but you can’t help but chuckle at all of Sylvia’s antics.”

“I think they will be really surprised about the show, or maybe they might just leave and start thinking about how much they love their dog,” says Ayres. “Sylvia just wants to be loved by everyone.”



WHEN — 8 p.m. June 16-17 and June 22-24; 2 p.m. June 25

WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory in Rogers

COST — $20-$40

INFO — arkansaspublictheatre.org

BONUS — An exhibition of art about dogs, including works by Karen Wagaman, Kinya Christian, Caity Church, Chuck Stout and two pieces from the McClure Collection by Christian and Amy Eichert, is on show in the Zephyr Blevins Gallery.

Categories: Theater