Whatever your plans are in the next two weekends, forget them. Clear your calendar. Go see UpStage Napa Valley’s presentation of “Sylvia.” It’s that good, and if you miss it, you’ll be sorry.
“Sylvia,” directed by Sharie Renault, is a comedy written by A. R. Gurney. It’s about a couple in Manhattan, living in a small apartment. They have raised their family and it’s time for wife Kate (Megan Whyte) to start her career, of teaching English to inner-city kids.
One day, husband Greg (Fred Ireland) comes home from the park with a delightful dog, named Sylvia, portrayed admirably by Alexis Forni. The two are inseparable. And as Greg’s midlife crisis continues, he decides to take more and more afternoons off from work, to spend time with Sylvia in the park.
It’s not all sunshine and bliss, though, because Kate can’t abide Sylvia, despite the dog’s best efforts to win her affection.
Greg and Kate reach a compromise … they will keep Sylvia on a trial basis for a couple of days, which, inevitably stretches to a couple of months. And, therein, lies the drama and the heart of this play, which leads to a lot of laughs.
“Sylvia” plays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, May 17 and 24; 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, May 18 and 25; and 5 p.m. Sundays, May 19 and 26. All performances are at Grace Episcopal Church, 1314 Spring St. in St. Helena. Tickets are $15 for students, $25 general admission, at UpstageNapaValley.org or BrownPaperTickets.com.
My wife, Joni, comments, “That was probably the best play that I’ve been to in a long, long time. It’s my favorite. The actors were superb, I loved everything about them.” Additionally, she said the people backstage, who changed the sets from scene to scene were “spot on.” She added, “Even the décor was perfect.”
It’s clear that in a former life Alexis Forni has been a delightful, cute dog. In this life, she plays an incredible four-legged animal, so full of energy and excitement. She played her part to perfection.
Joni adds, “You could tell from the very first when she got on stage that she was a dog. There was not one second when she was out of character. She was so cute.”
And Sylvia speaks in English – mostly, though, to Ireland. The dialog between them is priceless and worth the price of a ticket. And, after seeing “Sylvia,” don’t be surprised if you look at your dog, lying on the bed, and try to figure out what they’re saying to you.
The rest of the cast includes Tom (Jack Stuart), a dog owner who frequents the park and dispenses his “dog” wisdom to Greg; Phyllis (Elizabeth Stokkeye), a socialite friend of Kate’s who also dislikes dogs, and a delightful psychiatrist, Leslie (Deborah Todd), who has memorable advice for Kate: Divorce your husband, buy a gun and shoot the dog right between the eyes.
Thankfully, that advice is not taken.
The supporting cast is wonderful, adding their contributions to this comedy.
At the beginning of “Sylvia,” everyone takes a strong stand (Greg and Sylvia versus Kate, who doesn’t care for dogs but still seeks Greg’s affections), although as the play progresses, their views mellow out. We don’t know how the play is going to end, although it doesn’t look like it is going to end well. That’s part of the charm of “Sylvia,” a great and very funny play.
UpStage Napa Valley is collaborating with Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch, We Care Animal Rescue and Wine Country Animal Lovers to feature adoptable pets at each performance.