Sylvia | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


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Sylvia, Will Act for Food, at the Viaduct Theater. Adopting a stray dog gives a middle-aged man a new lease (leash?) on life but complicates his marriage. Playwright A.R. Gurney writes the dog as a person (the agile, perky, pug-nosed Jessica Browne-White), not only intensifying the bizarre love triangle but giving voice to the emotions dog lovers know must exist behind limpid eyes and wagging tails.

The story and characters are rich enough that even a superficial interpretation can work. This cast digs a little deeper, but not enough to make the production exceptional. Director Robb Rabito glosses over many of the meatiest comic nuggets. The dog's venomous X-rated tirade against a cat stops short of explosive and settles at high-pitched tantrum. A rendition of Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" misses the emotional beat and the song's key, which is impossible for all three actors. When the humor revolves around dog business, we get little more than the obvious scratching and panting. Watch a dog for an hour. There's much more material.

Finally, for the hundredth time, comedy is less funny when the actors try too hard. Tucker Curtis and Jennifer Mathews as the strained couple anchor things nicely with their timing, dry delivery, and believable grown-up emotions. But Browne-White seems too aware of her cuteness. And Jason Jude Hill's three supporting characters, though credible, would be funnier if taken more seriously. This show is warm and likable but not best of breed.

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