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A CurtainUp Review

I think you are God — Sylvia
A Tony award-winner last season for You Can't Take It With You, Annaleigh Ashford is the prettiest, most cunning, cute, coquettish little flirt ever to be picked up in Central Park. She is no dog, but yes she is. . . actually a dog in A.R. Gurney's whimsical 1995 comedy Sylvia, a wonderful revival of which has opened at the Cort Theatre. As the abandoned mongrel affixed with the name Sylvia, Ashford uses her agility to twist, turn, leap and curl her body in more endearing and amusing ways than those she effected as the Sycamore family's klutzy ballerina in You Can't Take It With You.

Greg (Matthew Broderick) is the man who brings Sylvia back to his Manhattan apartment and where they develop instant crushes on each other. So starts a true and touching romance. It is easy to see why Sylvia has been a staple of regional and community theaters since its premiere. It is not only a delightful fantasy, but also a psychologically persuasive look at one man's mid-life crisis.

Sylvia's savior, the middle aged man that she thinks of as God, is played with an air of nebbish-like vulnerability by Broderick, a master of that facade. If this is a role that seems tailor-made for Broderick it is because Greg is also one of those susceptible-to-unqualified-affection characters with whom Broderick seems to be most in tune. We can certainly see in his face and unassuming demeanor how ripe he is for the attentions of an adoring, straggly-haired blonde who snuggles, sniffs and smooches with unstoppable vigor, Greg is easily seduced, and so are we.

Blinded by his immediate love for Sylvia, Greg brings her home to his New York apartment. Their romance is thwarted, or at least stunted, by his wife Kate, a woman whose apathy is immediately apparent. She is played by a terrific Julie White, whose talent and versatility have earned her a trunk load of awards and nominations.

Kate has an agenda that doesn't include Sylvia. Although she is attractive and intelligent, she is unwilling to compromise their carefully plotted now-that-the-children-are-gone middle years for a stray dog. . . that she calls Saliva.

Hardly a ménage-a-trois in the conventional sense, Gurney invests this unconventional love story with plenty of humorous dog-eared incidents and dialogue. Necessarily intrusive, but laugh-getting and certainly scene-stealing is the triple role-playing by Robert Sella. All four actors have been put through their paws and paces with a controlling leash by director Daniel Sullivan.

. Ashford has the most demanding role. We never tire of her constant ogling of her master, her spontaneous bursts of typical doggy behavior and her quick-witted remarks as when she checks out a fire hydrant to see "if I have any messages." She is at her most comical when she spots a cat in the park, and goes into a wild frenzy and an unstoppable tirade laced with expletives that I choose not to repeat.

Never overdoing the obvious, Ashford, nevertheless, gets plenty of opportunities for scene-stealing but non more than when Greg has Sylvia professionally groomed. She is quite the looker in a pale beige fur jacket,furry white sneakers and her hair adorned with pink bows. Another outfit (kudos to costume designer Ann Roth) and aside from the obligatory knee pads, has her strutting about the apartment in a pink ruffled dress and feeling the French side of her gene pool — accent and all.

Because the role of Kate is not a sympathetic one, White has her work cut out for her to make us feel her frustration and desperation as she senses she is losing Greg's affection and attention. It isn't easy, but White makes us feel she has a right and is right to fight for the man she loves.

What talented actor doesn't relish the opportunity to play multiple characters in the same play? The cameos that Sella plays are three significant characters marked by their outrageously idiosyncratic behavior. He has no trouble getting the highest quota of laughs as the condescendingly macho Tom, whose male dog (unseen) has a fling with the hilariously enthusiastic Sylvia. He tops that as Kate's Vassar college friend Phyllis, a hoity-toity upper East-Sider whose crotch appears to be of particular interest to Sylvia. Lastly he plays to the hilt Leslie, a marriage counselor of indeterminate sex.

Perhaps the sweetest moment in the play finds Greg, Sylvia and Kate expressing their individualized loneliness singing alone and in concert Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye." Set Designer David Rockwell's visually stunning, occasionally lit-up, cityscape serves as an evocative backdrop for Kate and Greg's Apartment, a sprawling sloping green in Central Park, and other New York City locales. All in all, Sylvia is a delightfully benign canine-comedy.

Sylvia By A.R. Gurney
Directed by Daniel Sullivan

Cast: Matthew Broderick (Greg), Annaleigh Ashford (Sylvia), Julie White (Kate), Robert Sella (Tom/Phyllis/Leslie
Set Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman
Sound Design: Peter Fitzgerald
Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including intermission
Cort Theatre, 138 Wst 48th Street
Tickets: $67.00 - $147.00
Telecharge: 239 - 6200
Performances: Tues., Wed., 2 pm and 7 pm., Thurs., 7 pm., Fri., 8 pm., Sat. 2 pm and 8 pm., and Sun. at 3 pm.
From 10/02/15 Opened 10/27/15; closing 1/03/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/26/15
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