Little Theatre’s cute ‘Sylvia’ offers slight, consistent smiles

As I was leaving Las Vegas Little Theatre on Sunday, I heard repeatedly from audience members, "That was cute." Yeah, I’d say the production was cute — no more, no less, but, still, cute.

A.R. Gurney’s 1996 comedy has an intriguing premise: A male, modern-day New Yorker, apparently going through menopause, suddenly brings home a dog named Sylvia. His wife is incensed. Their busy city lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to animals that need frequent care and attention. Besides, she just doesn’t like dogs.

But the husband, for reasons we at first don’t understand, is so attached to the pet that he’s willing to risk his job and perhaps his marriage. It eventually becomes apparent why the man is so obsessed. The reasons are poignant and likely to connect to an audience in surprising ways.

The characters, including Sylvia (no dog makeup here), sometimes address each other, sometimes the audience, sometimes themselves.

Penni Mendez in the title role is the main joy of director Gillen Brey’s production. She gets us to see the world through the animal’s eyes, expertly communicating her character’s frantic walk, undisciplined energy, excitement at being allowed on a couch, desire to please and intense confusion when she can’t interpret her master’s commands.

Brian Scott, as the formerly sane businessman going through a midlife crisis, often projects a fine, understated confusion. There are too many moments, though, when he seems to be doing stand-up rather than portraying a character. Scott’s discovery that he has a knack for slick timing may be the biggest obstacle in his acting work. He’s so clean and clever that he sometimes loses sight of his character’s soul.

Brey gives the material a whimsical touch; it’s a warm story, and Brey provides the lightness it needs. David Sankuer’s set of the Manhattan skyline seen from a high-rise apartment is breathtaking. And Ginny Adams’ lights suggest the drama of the city, as well as the fun in living well in smart, city digs.

It all adds up to slight, but consistent smiles. And watching Mendez as she transforms into a vulgar, blood-hungry warrior when she spies a cat may be reason enough to grab a ticket.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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