Greg (Tim Naegelin) is in the middle of the midlife doldrums. His job has become unsatisfying, and his marriage is on automatic pilot.
Clearly, he needs someone who will revive his enthusiasm. And in playwright A.R. Gurney’s comedy-drama “Sylvia,” running through June 22 in a charming Stray Dog Theatre production, he finds her.
Sylvia (Susie Lawrence) is everything Greg could want: affectionate, devoted, and simply happy to be in his presence. There’s just one problem: She’s a dog.
Greg’s wife Kate (Kay Love) bristles at the idea of having a rambunctious mutt in their apartment, especially one who might mess up their couch. But Greg insists he’ll take responsibility for Sylvia and make sure things don’t get out of control.
Kate is skeptical. As Sylvia demands more and more of Greg’s attention, she can’t help but be jealous. And she can’t believe that her rival is a flea-infested canine.
“Sylvia” offers a fresh take on a common trope: A wife feeling threatened by another woman. Director Gary F. Bell deftly straddles the line between reality and absurdity. And the cast takes that approach to heart.
Naegelin gets to the essence of a man who’s afraid that the bottom has dropped out of his life. Love conveys Kate’s insecurities with pinpoint accuracy. And Melissa Harlow brings spirit and spunk to three very different roles.
But Lawrence has play’s juiciest part, gleefully leaning into Sylvia’s impulsive behavior. Her portrayal of the dog freaking out after spotting a cat is an acting triumph.
Gurney, who died in 2017 at age 86, is perhaps best known for “Love Letters,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He specialized in plays about American upper-class culture. With “Sylvia,” Gurney embraced more fantastical territory, with great success.
This is the kind of offbeat play that should be presented more often in St. Louis.