There’s never been a romantic triangle quite like the one that propels A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, now getting a cheer-worthy Rubicon Theater revival with an irresistible Ashley Fox Linton as the canine homewrecker who gives this alternately hilarious and heartstrings-tugging romcom its name.

With the kids now off at college, Greg and Kate (Kevin Symons and Stasha Surdyke) are at long last looking forward to some decades-postponed together time, that is until the day Greg finds himself “adopted” by an adorable stray pooch and the Manhattan brownstone he and Kate now call home has welcomed a furry third inhabitant.

Is Greg having a midlife crisis, or is it just that having a pet who thinks of him as God gives his life new meaning?

Whatever the reason, a dismayed Kate grudgingly agrees to let Sylvia stay on condition that Greg assume all responsibilities for the pet, thereby allowing his wife the time needed to devote herself to teaching Shakespeare to inner city high school kids.

Unfortunately, the more Greg and Sylvia bond, the more frustrated Kate becomes at having a third body in their marital bed.

Could Greg be going through a “male menopausal moment”? Will Kate divorce Greg, on the grounds of adultery? Will she sue Sylvia for alienation of affections?

These and other questions get answered at the Rubicon, where ace director Stephanie A. Coltrin’s couldn’t-be-better cast will have you laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next.

What sets playwright Gurney’s pet pup apart from Marley or Beethoven or Skip is that Sylvia can talk, or at least Greg and Kate can hear her talk, and what man could possibly resist a canine who declares with unconditional love, “Someone else might have ignored me. Or shooed me away. Or even turned me in. Not you. You welcomed me with open arms.”

Just try to say no to that, particularly with a revelatory Linton proving that not only is she one of SoCal’s brightest musical theater stars, she can steal scenes right and left without (hardly) singing a note. Whether wagging her perky behind, sniffing at strangers, barking “Hey! Hey! Hey!”, scratching at fleas, or experiencing the thrill of being in heat (“I just wanna hump!”), Linton is perky perfection with a stevedore’s mouth.

An absolutely terrific Symons’ Greg basks in the glow of Sylvia’s unconditional love, spars with Kate over his new pet, confesses his need to “feel more connected to life … to living,” and gives every audience member who’s ever loved a pet someone to identify with and root for.

Not that Kate doesn’t have ample reason to fume, and a deliciously dry Surdyke proves a master at the slow (and not-so-slow) burn, all the while making it clear that what motivates Kate is a need to defend her marriage and her new adult life in the city.

(Hearing the above three vocalize harmoniously to Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” is an added bonus.)

Completing the cast is Larry Cedar, simply sensational as a) fellow dog owner Tom, who needs to remind himself to kiss his wife before saying hello to Bowser; b) Kate’s supportive college chum Phyllis, forced to suffer a crotch-sniffing Sylvia’s indignities; and c) Leslie, Kate’s androgynous therapist who lets her patients select her gender (and audiences attempt to figure out just where in Europe she comes from).

Scenic designer Mike Billings’ classy revolving set takes us from Greg and Kate’s stylish flat to a Manhattan park to Leslie’s office with a push of a button and some help from his gorgeous projections and lighting and T. Theresa Scarano’s prop design and set dressing. Coltrin’s Sinatra-and-friends-style musical soundtrack is a winner too.

Best of all are Michael Mullen’s bevy of contemporary upscale costumes for humans and Sylvia’s inspired human-canine mix, with special snaps for her post-shampoo-and-styling look.

Jessie Vacchiano is production stage manager. Kelsey Sapp is production manager. David King is technical director.

You don’t have to be a dog aficionado to fall under Sylvia’s spell. Even this diehard cat lover couldn’t resist.

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Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main Street, Ventura.

–Steven Stanley
April 29, 2017
Photos: David Niedle


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