'Sylvia' makes welcome return to local stage

Dog character appeals to pet lovers of all stripes


Director Pamela Clifton's comments in her program notes for “Sylvia” really hit the nail on the head as to why this play by A.B. Guthrie is so very appealing, especially to anyone who has ever owned a dog, loved a dog ...

Her whimsical note is on how an audience disagreed on what kind of dog Sylvia was. Owners saw their greyhound, golden retriever, Dalmatian, schnauzer, while Clifton thought of a "special black Lab/German shepherd mix that looked just like Bob."

The role of Sylvia at Denver's Avenue Theater, for those who are not familiar with the comedy, is played by a woman (Amie MacKenzie) and is a bouncy stray dog, brought home from Central Park by middle-aged, middle-class Greg (John Ashton), who is in full-blown mid-life crisis, disliking his job and absent a good bit.

He and his wife, Kate (Abby Apple Boes), have just moved to a Manhattan apartment now that their children are grown, and Kate has a teaching job she loves — sharing Shakespeare with inner-city children. Guthrie throws in lines of commentary from the Bard.

Greg rightly expects that Kate will not be pleased with a dog as he and Sylvia await her return home on the first day.

"Hey! Hey! Hey!" is Guthrie's clever way of interpreting a barking sound. Mackenzie, dressed in a variety of somewhat scruffy earth-colored clothes, has the moves and manner of a feisty canine embedded in her person after so many encounters with this character. It's just a pleasure to watch her in action.

The play is well-written, with appealing characters. A fourth actor (Tupper Cullum) plays three funny, perhaps overdone folks: Kate's Vassar friend, Phyllis; Tom, who offers lots of advice on dogs and marriage when he and Greg meet in the park; and Leslie, the androgynous therapist Greg and Kate consult as their marriage unravels over the dog.

Ashton and MacKenzie were in the original production of “Sylvia” at the Avenue, directed by Clifton in 1999. (It was first in New York in 1995 and is set in Manhattan in the '90s. The play ran for more than two years at both the old and new Avenue Theater and Clifton played Kate in the new theater remount. It was a first showing for Denver audiences.

This welcome return visit runs through Sept. 13 with a cast of veteran actors. Some language is not appropriate for little people, but for teens and adults, it's warm, funny and clever.

If you go:

"Sylvia" plays through Sept. 13 at The Avenue Theater, 417 E. 17th Ave., Denver. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays. Tickets: 303-321-5925, avenuetheater.com


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