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Sylvia

A generously appointed revival of the Gurney tale of interspecies devotion.

Annaleigh Ashford and Matthew Broderick in a scene from “Sylvia” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Annaleigh Ashford and Matthew Broderick in a scene from “Sylvia” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

 There are many delights in A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia which is making its Broadway debut at the Cort Theatre in a generously appointed production directed by the insightful Daniel Sullivan.  It’s impossible not to fall for this warm-hearted, smart and lovable—like its eponymous title canine—play by an author famed for his depictions of upper WASP slow-burn torment.   To be sure, all is not sweetness and light in Sylvia.  The stray canine, Sylvia is a problematical creature, but is sassy and irresistible even as she causes havoc in the household of a comfortable upper middle-class household.

Directed with comfortable assurance and a leisurely sense of timing, this Sylvia benefits from a (mostly) strong cast, including three Tony Award winners:  Matthew Broderick (whose wife Sarah Jessica Parker played the title role in the original off-Broadway production),  Julie White and Annaleigh Ashford.  The brilliant, versatile Robert Sella who expertly and drolly plays three diverse roles, rounds out the cast.

While avoiding his job—and probably suffering a midlife crisis—Greg (Broderick) finds a stray dog, Sylvia (Ashford) in a Central Park delightfully designed by David Rockwell.   The two latch onto each other, much to the chagrin of Greg’s wife, Kate (White) whose prospects of a new, post-kiddy, empty nest career and a much-deserved quiet life are sabotaged by the newcomer whose hold over Greg mystifies her at first.

Julie White and Matthew Broderick in a scene from “Sylvia” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Julie White and Matthew Broderick in a scene from “Sylvia” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

In Central Park, Greg meets another dog lover Tom (Sella) whose Bowser gets along a bit too well with Sylvia.  Tom thinks of himself as a dog—and life—expert, offering Greg not very sage advice, but he is the kind of pal Greg never had time for: casual, easygoing and amusing.

Sella also portrays Kate’s friend, Phyllis, a haughty society dame whom Sylvia brings down a peg or two.  Leslie—also the hardworking Sella—is the marriage counselor of indeterminate gender whom Greg and Kate visit to help straighten out their life, fractured by the stress that Sylvia has brought to their household.  Watching Sella preen as the two women is worth the price of admission.

Broderick comes across as an annoyingly superannuated little boy despite the fact that he’s written as a troubled adult man rediscovering his boyhood joy of life.  It takes a great deal of effort to imagine what his wife sees in him.  His stiff bearing and even stiffer line readings work to a certain extent, but the part would benefit from a richer portrayal.

Robert Sella, Annaleigh Ashford and Matthew Broderick in a scene from “Sylvia” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Robert Sella, Annaleigh Ashford and Matthew Broderick in a scene from “Sylvia” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Ms. White, on the other hand, knows Kate inside out, and turns her into a three-dimensional, modern, middle-aged being.  She convincingly refuses to be painted as the villain in this work; her frustration is palpable.

Ms. Ashford’s delightful scene-stealing talents were evident in the recent You Can’t Take It With You.  Here her lithe physical shtick and brilliant vocal tics are perfect.  As she trolls and sniffs Greg and Kate’s simple, elegant apartment, romps in Central Park and wears Ann Roth’s hilarious evocations of doggy-ness she is a study in concentrated energy.

Sylvia is fluff, but literate and engaging fluff, with enough knowing comic observations to keep it from floating off.

Sylvia (through January 3, 2016)

Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.SylviaBroadway.com

Running time:  two hours including one intermission

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (239 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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