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Just a Fella and His Dog

Sylvia is unlike the usual “other woman.” She’s frisky, adoring, devoted; she sits and stays and rolls over on command (well, usually). She’s sexy in fishnet stockings or down home in sweatshirt and jeans. She loves middle-aged Greg, who picked her up in the park, with an almost embarrassing adoration, but she wants his wife, Kate, to like her, too. Sylvia, of course, is a dog. In A. R. Gurney’s deliciously bittersweet comedy, “Sylvia,” now on stage at Berkshire Theatre Festival, Sylvia (Rachel Bay Jones) is the part labrador/part poodle who bounds into a relationship under pressure – Kate (Jurian Hughes)and Greg (David Adkins) are empty-nesters newly back in Manhattan. She teaches Shakespeare to inner-city children and insists on frequent evenings out. He is unhappy with his job and mired in midlife crisis — and nudges it, like Sylvia’s toy red ball, into dangerous territory. Gurney is famous for caustic, acerbic explorations of WASPy marriages and relationships. Here the language — and Sylvia, who, of course, really voices Greg and Kate’s inner thoughts — is gentle, very funny, poignant. The couple spars, even fights, but never goes for the kill. And when Kate’s friend Phyllis (Walter Hudson) visits, there is near comedic mayhem. The play’s conceit begins to fray and disintegrate in Act II. But when Sylvia is on stage, the play is captivating and surprising. I can recall nothing like the end of Act I: Sylvia, left alone in the apartment when Greg goes to LaGuardia to see Kate off on a business trip, suddenly awakens from a nap on the couch (usually denied her) and begins to sing Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (I Die a Little.) The song is picked up by Greg, then by Kate. It’s the sweetest, unlikeliest trio imaginable. Jones, in the role famously originated by Sarah Jessica Parker on Broadway, is terrific, whether scratching fleas or thrusting her pelvis in erotic invitation. Hughes and Adkins, so good in last summer’s “No Wake,” are pitch perfect. And Anders Cato has directed competently, letting the intelligence and wit of the words take center stage. “Sylvia” runs through July 30 on Berkshire Theatre Festival’s main stage in Stockbridge, MA. Call 413- 997-4444 or go to www.berkshiretheatre.org for tickets.

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