Tuesday, October 2, 2012

“Sylvia” a Real Charmer

By Skip Sheffield

Jacqueline Laggy is no dog, but she sure does play an adorable pooch.

Laggy is the star and title character of the Boca Raton Theatre Guild production of “Sylvia,” running weekends through Oct. 14 in the Willow Theatre of Sugar Sand Park, 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton.

“Sylvia” was written in 1995 by the puckish observer of upper-class life, A.R. Gurney.

“Sylvia” is one of Gurney’s lightest pieces, and one of his most broadly-appealing. Most people love dogs, and if you do you may see yourself in this story.

Kate (Patti Gardner) and Greg (Keith Garsson) are a middle-aged Manhattan couple in kind of an emotional doldrums. Greg is bored and dissatisfied with his job. Kate is struggling mightily to teach Shakespeare to inner-city children.

Into this uncertain atmosphere bursts Sylvia (Jacqueline Laggy), a stray female dog Greg found in Central Park.

“I love you,” Sylvia declares to Greg as we first meet her. “I think you’re God.”

That in a nutshell is the appeal of a dog. They do love unconditionally and worship their masters humbly. A friendly dog is just the thing for a guy with shaky self-confidence.

The drawback to this total devotion is that it excludes anyone else. It comes as no surprise that Kate dislikes Sylvia at first sight. As Greg becomes more enthralled with his new little friend, Kate feels more left out and resentful.

Jacqueline is a tiny, nimble sprite of a woman. Her athletic performance as this irrepressible pup is one of the best I’ve seen.

Patti Gardner has the thankless task of making a basically negative character into one more appealing and sympathetic. For this Gardner calls up her womanly and acting wiles to express the hurt and bafflement of a wife feeling her marriage slip away.

The men are far less interesting. Greg is your standard mid-life crisis guy. Instead of a flashy sports car or a secret mistress he has found what he thinks he needs in Sylvia. He is wrong, of course.

Mario Betto plays the other male character of Tom, a typical sports-loving regular guy who befriends Greg in the park. In drag Betto also plays Kate’s friend Phyllis and the androgynous who-knows-what Leslie. It’s a good sight gag seeing Betto tower over diminutive Patti Gardner, but there’s not much more to it.

I’m guessing director Genie Croft is betting on enough dog-lovers to keep “Sylvia” going. Let’s hope so. With the demise of Caldwell Theatre, live professional theater has become an endangered species in Boca Raton.

Tickets are $25 and may be reserved by call 561-347-3948 or going to www.brtg.org.

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