Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  

sylvia2013-09-24-13-53-15  Photo: Origin unknown. Jerushah Wright, Madeliene Hall, and Jeremie Cyr-Cook.

Greg and Kate live in a fashionable condo in New York. Greg is in the process of a mid-life crisis and bringing home a stray dog is one of the symptoms. A. Gurney’s play takes the man dog relationship, uses it to spoof all sorts of contemporary identity issues by having “Sylvia” the dog, played by an attractive young girl (a petulant and talented Madeleine Hall) who talks like a human but who thinks and moves like a dog. The dog becomes a fetish object replacing all that is missing in the husband’s life, the incarnation of a submissive woman which all men dream to possess.

The anthropomorphic portrait of the animal is complete and Hall plays it all with perfection. In this production featuring the third year graduating class of the OTS’ no doubt about it, the dog stole the show. Her  twitchy body, her explosions of emotion, and her panting, cuddling, barking and physical agility were all  used to best advantage by director Peter James Haworth, who set up the actress in her perfect doggy delightful exchange with her new master, Greg. He is the man who  uses Sylvia as an excuse to change his boring lifestyle in finance. He is so deeply drawn into a  relationship with this dog that he appears to lose interest in his wife. Kate struggles with the presence of this rival who seems to be taking over her household, until it all boils over when she makes an important announcement about her future.

The play certainly did not end on a high note of humour but rather fell back on a more conservative solution, no doubt to please a certain audience that might not have appreciated too much kinky stuff. This is a very “New York” based play. You can sense the class tensions, among all the characters, you can hear where certain accents should intervene, part of which did come to life thanks to Jerushah Wright who plays Tom from the ‘hood, a parody of a pop psychiatrist with a big horny male dog and a perfect New York accent. Both Tom and Greg  walk their dogs in the park as Tom warns Greg not to let the female Sylvia get too close to him. Soon, nature will have its way, the disillusioned Greg realizes that Sylvia eventually grows up and does her dog thing with the male, in one of the funniest scenes in the play. No refined thinking on the part of Sylvia who is basically an animal, guided by her instincts which are quick to respond and never under control. The portraits are charming, the play is fun and it was a good vehicle for this production by the third  year students of the Ottawa Theatre School.

Rather good directing by Haworth .who apparently does not have much experience as a director whereas he has long list of acting achievements. Wright who appears as various forms of the psychiatrist who listens to Sylvia’s and Greg’s problems transforms herself with great presence, changing accents and moving about with much ease, although she does tend to overact a bit, especially in her female roles, but given the fact that the main character is a dog, played by a woman who wiggles and leaps and pants and does very unhuman things, overacting might not be relevant in this show.

Lots of laughs, a pleasant evening, and the actors were all perfectly adequate. And by the way, Jerushah Wright has a beautiful pop jazz voice that almost sounds like Adele. Listen to her on line…

Sylvia plays again Saturday night at the Ottawa Theatre School. It starts at 20h00 and running time is about 2 hours.

Sylvia by A.R. gurney

Directed by James Haworth

Lighting. John Solman


Sylvia Madeleine Hall

Greg Jeremie Cyr-Cook

Kate Bobby Robert

Tom, Phyllis and Leslie, all played by Jerushah Wright.

A production of the Ottawa Theatre School.

Continues until 20h00, November 23, at the OTS on Picton Ave.