WHAT “Sylvia” by A.R. Gurney Jr.
WHEN | WHERE Through Feb. 4. Upcoming: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson
TICKETS $35, $28 seniors and students, $20 ages 5-12; 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com
A.R. Gurney says that when he presented “Sylvia” to prospective producers in the 1990s, the comedy was rejected because “it equated a dog with a woman, and to ask a woman to play a dog is not just misogynist but blatantly sexist.” Yet in this tale of a man in the throes of his midlife crisis, he falls in love with a female stray instead of buying a sports coupe.
At Theatre Three, in the wake of the acclaimed 2015 Broadway debut of “Sylvia,” starring Matthew Broderick as the dog lover — it ran Off-Broadway 20 years earlier — Bradlee Bing has cast and directed a gleefully adept ensemble in an absurd examination of the extremes to which alienation leads us. And this, although the program notes that “Sylvia” is set in the present, was written before smartphone addiction. We need to feel connected, Gurney is saying. In that sense, “Sylvia” is more relevant today. A dog can’t post selfies or tweet in no more than 140 characters.
We meet Greg as he brings a dog name-tagged “Sylvia,” which he found in the park, to the empty-nester Manhattan apartment (inviting indoor/outdoor set by Randall Parsons) he shares with his wife, Kate. She disapproves, referring to the dog as “Saliva.” But Greg is smitten, feeling a need to feel needed.
Greg gets unsolicited advice when he takes her to a park where unleashing is permissible. Tom, owner of an alpha dog named Bowser, warns him about the threat to his marriage. Tom should know. But Greg is oblivious to this and other warning signs pointed out by Kate’s friend Phyllis and by Leslie, an androgynous marriage counselor — all played with over-the-top gusto by Matt Senese.
Steve Ayle as Greg brings a seductive everyman quality to the role — suggesting, however implausibly, that this could happen to any man bored in his marriage and career. Linda May as Kate presents a formidable yet helpless counterpoint to Greg’s seemingly unnatural obsession. But the all-fours play belongs to Brittany Lacey, brilliantly aping canine mannerisms as Sylvia, even in her at-times unrestrained — language alert! — speech patterns. Tell us what you really think of cats, Sylvia.
Unlike Facebook “friends,” dogs must be touched, fed and spoken to — usually, Twitter fans may be happy to hear, in minimal syllables. Sylvia yawns whenever Greg gets philosophical.