“Sylvia” : at the Paper Wing Theatre
Have you ever felt a little “disconnected” from the world around you?
“Sylvia” may seem to be a story about a man and his dog, but the underlying theme directly tackles that feeling of disconnect through the relationship. When Greg (Jay Devine) returns home one evening with stray pet Sylvia (Tatum Tollner), we are introduced to a man whose life has become disconnected. His children are out of the home, his wife is focused on her career, and his work is becoming more “abstract” as time goes on. Sylvia seems like a godsend to him, a lifeline in a world that’s become more confusing and unconnected to the increasingly thoughtful Greg. Her adoration for him provides an anchor, and his talks with the dog manage to fulfill the missing pieces from his own life. And the increasingly jealous Kate (Chris Caffrey) finds herself competing with the dog for the affection and loyalty of a man who suddenly seems very distant from her.
Jodi Gilmore tackles the role of “Everybody Else”… an amalgam of three different people who find themselves caught in the story. There’s the high society New Yorker friend of Kate, the fellow dog owner, and the “gender-questionable” couples therapist; all of whom reflect an outsiders’ view of the story to humorous effect. His appearances often shake up the story to humorous effect, though my favorite was the book-quoting dog owner in the park who constantly brings up book titles that are increasingly ridiculous.
The shows dramatic compass hinges on the audiences connection with Greg, and Jay Devine constantly finds moments to shine in the show. We feel for the connection he has with Sylvia, we can understand what he’s lost over the years, and we’re constantly wanting Kate to just stop and ‘listen’ to what Greg is saying throughout the show. The story revolves around Sylvia, but it’s really about this couple and whether they will manage to rediscover the connection they once had with each other. Kates’ cold practicality can seem off-putting to an audience that is already predisposed to “side” with the affable Greg, but there is an honest hurt beneath façade that our “hero” also has to come to terms with.
With all of that, however, Sylvia is a story about a dog. Tatum Tollner consistently dominates in the title role as a mixed breed mutt rescued by Greg. Her honest portrayal of the dog is riddled with hyper-active adoration, nervous energy, and a frankness that can be downright vulgar on occasion. Sylvia speaks with a pure honesty that addresses the needs of Greg, all while telling him that she’s not going to understand the deeper thoughts running through his head… for her the world is fairly simple. Going “out” is the greatest thing in the world and her greatest challenge is sneaking a sit on the ever elusive “couch” where all comfort could be found. She constantly paws this piece of furniture, constantly circles, and ultimately looks for every excuse possible to find herself lounging across it. I found myself laughing so hard throughout her exchange with the “Cat” that I couldn’t breathe, so that moment has to be mentioned as the absolute highlight of the show for me.