Dorset Players fetch excellence in 'Sylvia'

Local community troupe stages classic A.R. Gurney comedy

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DORSET — The Dorset Players, one of the oldest community theaters companies in the nation, continue their 91st season with a late winter offering of A.R. ("Pete") Gurney's modern classic comedy of love, relationships, and the ownership follies of furry creatures, "Sylvia."

The show is directed by Cheryl Gushee and produced by Paul Michael Brinker.

The story takes place in the spring and fall of 1985, in the Upper West Side apartment of professionals and empty-nesters who have been married for 22 years: Financial manager Greg (Jim Young), and Kate (Tracy Hughes), a schoolteacher.

Greg brings home a stray mutt, Sylvia (Maya Grace Redington), and seems very attached to her almost right away. Kate notes the bond and feels left out, to say the least, adopting the moniker of "Saliva" for the adopted pooch.

The connection continues, all with the eerily human behavior of Sylvia in the forefront, and mixing in the humorous high jinks of doggie park macho man Tom (Todd Hjelt), Kate's upper crust friend Phyllis (Elisabeth Hazelton), and gender-bending family therapist Leslie (Lynn Marcus).

Director Gushee had her actors ready to play, as evidenced by the endless stream of audience laughter on opening night.

Hazelton put on her best Manhattan high society in an air of haughtiness and huffiness, delighting us with her revulsion and reaction to Sylvia. Hjelt's caricature of the bow-legged football-loving owner of the (naturally) unfixed male pooch Bowser was a rollicking over-the-top stab at the stereotype. And Marcus almost stole the show with her brief, flaky take on Leslie, which seemed to get flakier with every passing line.

Players stalwart Hughes was uncanny in her marital frustration, yet was still able to delve into the poignant finish as Kate, in an excellence we have become used to in watching her over the years.

Which brings us to the gentle giant Young, who is saying goodbye to the Players after nearly a decade of memorable roles and performances.

Young's humorous timing in his interactions with Sylvia was spot on, but it didn't detract from the more serious take on Greg's midlife journey, and of compassion and fulfillment. We bid Young a fond farewell, hoping a stage in Pennsylvania will be lucky enough to take him in, in much the same way Greg took in Sylvia, with love and warmth.

In that same vein, Players newcomer Redington nailed Sylvia to the hilt. She checked every block for the role, which Gurney intended for a young, attractive and limber woman.

But Redington also went well past that in her physical comedy, in her facial expressions, and in her delivery of what is one of the more ridiculous to sublime roles in any realm of the stage. The entire story hinges on the actor playing Sylvia to deliver the good, and that is what we all witnessed. Welcome to the Players, Ms. Redington, and here's to seeing more of this talent in the years to come.

The play ran for about two hours, which included a 15-minute intermission.

Paul Michael Brinker's production support was tireless — he was everywhere at all times. Drew Hill, boosted by his crew, excelled in the modular set design, a Players hallmark.

Rebecca Nawrath's stage management exhibited its expected high level of accomplishment. Lights by Angie Merwin and crew, costumes by Cherie Thompson and everyone and hair also by Thompson were impeccable.

When "Sylvia" made the producer rounds in 1995 before the Manhattan Theatre Club first brought it to the stage, it had been rejected a number of times for what was seen as extreme misogyny in the title role.

Sigh. After more than two decades of accolades, awards, long runs, revivals, laughter, and yes, teary eyes, one can only wonder through what (lack of) creative lens those producers considered this funny yet emotional tale of the need for love and belonging, and for empathy in human relationships.

Thankfully, the Dorset Players didn't have such issues, and as such are delivering one of most entertaining and endearing plays of the recent American opus as capably as any professional troupe — which is why you should make the drive to Dorset to see this gem of a story, and the excellent actors of the Dorset Players bring in to the stage.

"Sylvia," will run through March 10 at The Dorset Players, 173 Cheney Rd., Dorset. Info and tickets: dorsetplayers.org or 802-867-5570

Telly Halkias a member of the American Theatre Critics Assn. (ATCA). Reach him at tchalkias@aol.com or Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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