By Michael Tessler
There are few bonds greater than between a man and his dog, and sometimes there are few bonds stranger! Theatre Three begins the new year with the wonderfully clever off-Broadway comedy, “Sylvia,” written by A.R. Gurney.
This light-hearted romp introduces us to Greg, a man midway into his midlife crisis. He’s had it all: a happy family, a stable corporate job, even a great apartment in the heart of Manhattan … but now with an empty nest, retirement just around the bend and a fading flame of a marriage, he does what any sane person would do — he adopts a stray puppy from the park!
Directed by Bradlee E. Bing, this performance offers more than laughs; it is a philosophical journey through the complexities of aging and relationships. One can’t help but become emotionally invested in Bing’s incredibly talented cast of actors. His production never wastes a beat. Even as dialogue happens on one side of the stage, Bing cleverly places subtle action on the other, giving way to a truly immersive performance.
Peter Casdia, the stage manager, runs a tight and efficient shift backstage. The show’s set, designed by Randall Parsons, is simple but very effective. Alternating between an apartment, local park and office, you’ll easily keep track of where you are from location to location. Robert W. Henderson Jr.’s lighting design is subtle but quite efficacious.
This show’s quick-wit script and sublime cast doesn’t require the usual pomp and circumstance when it comes to the show’s lighting or set. Its simplicity is its strength, letting the audience dive head first into this character-centric performance.
Steve Ayle, who portrays Greg, is perfectly cast. His ability to transcend both comedy and drama give him a unique ability as a performer. Many actors on stage tend to become victims of overacting, a desperate need to evoke a reaction from the audience. Ayle, as testament to his ability as actor, does just the opposite. His authentic humor is a delight and is so genuinely played that you will in earnest believe him in all of his actions. When watching his performance you’ll find yourself asking:“Why the heck isn’t this guy on TV? He’s great!”
Theatre Three veteran Linda May plays Greg’s wife Kate, a witty English teacher who has dedicated her life to educating underprivileged youth in the works of William Shakespeare. With her children off at college, Kate delves into her work, turning a new leaf in her professional career. Things are turned upside down when her husband of several decades finds himself with a rather unhealthy attachment to his new dog, the eponymous Sylvia.
In one of my favorite exchanges, Kate finds herself on the floor facing off with Sylvia in jealous rage. The act of one woman and one dog, going nose to nose over the affection and love of their shared man is strikingly comical and brilliantly performed.
Brittany Lacey, the star of Theatre Three’s wonderful performance of “Legally Blonde,” is back and is nothing short of a real (dog) treat! Her versatility as an actress shines as she takes on the show’s titular four-legged character, Sylvia, a bouncy, frisky poodle mix. Lacey wastes no time in establishing believability, capturing and personifying perfectly the internal dialogue of a dog. Her physicality during the show is tremendously funny and her dialogue is delivered with refreshing gusto. Lacey’s profanity-laced rant about cats is perhaps the show’s greatest sequence, saying what we’ve all felt about cats at one time or another!
Sylvia’s sensuous romp with neighborhood dog Bowser gives way to some incredible comedic material. You’ll find yourself desperate for air during her barrel of fun performance. When paired with her owner, Greg, you get the opportunity to see two incredibly talented actors really delve into their craft. Their scenes together are some of the best in the show and really capture the unique love between a man and his dog.
Last but certainly not least is the show’s everyman (and woman) Matt Senese. Though I don’t want to spoil all the fun, this multifaceted actor delivers huge laughs playing three separate supporting roles as both a man and a woman. For his explosively funny performance alone, go see this show!
Theatre Three’s Athena Hall is looking more beautiful as ever. The cozy, elegant and historical theater is the perfect venue in which to escape reality. Now offering accessibility with an elevator lift and a refurbished wheelchair-friendly bathroom, the theater remains a sanctuary for all those with a love of the arts. Oh, and the ushers are the best around! All in all, “Sylvia” is a perfect way to start the new year. Light, funny and endearing, this show’s short run doesn’t stop it from being big fun!
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Sylvia” on the Mainstage through Feb. 4. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 not permitted. Wednesday matinee is $20. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.