I don’t know how much time Michelle Wafford spent studying dog behavior, but as the title character in the Mud Creek Players’ production of “Sylvia,” she has it down pat. From inching ever closer to Greg, her master (played by Collin Moore) — as dogs, with no sense of personal space, are wont to do — to wagging her tail. Yes, I said wagging her tail. Yes, I am aware that a human female portraying a dog does not have a tail, but…I promise you, she wagged her TAIL.
“Sylvia,” a delightful and insightful play written by A.R. Gurney, is on stage for one more weekend at the Mud Creek Playhouse, 9740 E. 86th St., Indianapolis. The play stars Wafford as Sylvia, a dog found in the park by Moore and taken home to his unreceptive (an understatement) wife, Kate, played by Maggie Worrell.
Wafford as Sylvia enters the scene with ragamuffin hair dressed in unmemorable shades of brown. She’s dirty; she clearly has fleas; she climbs on the furniture; and the audience, along with Greg and Kate, soon realize that she is only partially housebroken. But at least she ‘kicks dirt’ on it when she’s done.
With super-canine sense, Sylvia quickly understands where her allegiances should lie (with Greg, the “god” who saved her), and she barks fiercely at Kate with a “Hey! HEYHEYHEY!” In turn, Kate repeatedly refers to Sylvia as Saliva.
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At Kate’s insistence, Greg takes Sylvia to be groomed. Upon their return, Sylvia’s hair is perfectly coiffed with the ubiquitous “I’ve been to the groomer” ribbons, and the drab brown skirt is traded in for a fringed red scarf around her waist. Sylvia sashays across the stage accompanied by flashing lights and music to strut by, much to Kate’s disgust.
The play is about the relationship between a man and his dog and a man and his wife. The man reflects a vague restlessness with his current employment situation. His children are grown. His teacher wife, on the other hand, is thriving at work and enjoying the childless house. Man and dog are made for each other; wife is third wheel.
In between watching Wafford’s authentic dog behavior – barking out profanity to a cat under a parked car, exhibiting all the earmarks of being in heat – the relationship between husband and wife is very real. Greg clearly needs the dog; Kate adamantly does NOT want a dog in her home. Variations of the situation in which they find themselves have played out in marriages across history.
Tensions rise in the marriage, and the situation reaches a breaking point when Kate is awarded a grant to study in England – with her husband – for six months.
With such realistic performances on stage (yes, even the dog), Joe Aiello’s over-the-top characterizations of his three bit parts in the show were somewhat jarring. The conversations in the park between Tom (Aiello) and Greg about dog ownership and relationships were chuckle-worthy, but his portrayal of Leslie the androgynous psychiatrist seemed particularly forced. The humor of “Sylvia” rests on the situation and the dialogue, and whoever made the choice to inject such broad caricatures into the play should have known better.
All-in-all, an evening in the audience of “Sylvia” is time well-spent. You’ll smile, you’ll laugh, and –- if you’re a dog-lover — you’ll see yourself. And after the show, when you get back home, hug your dog, hug your spouse, but maybe not in that order.
Christine Schaefer is arts and entertainment editor of the Daily Reporter. She can be reached at cschaefer@greenfield reporter.com
“Sylvia” plays through Feb. 24 at the Mud Creek Theater, 9740 E. 86th St., Indianapolis
Visit mudcreekplayers.org for showtimes and ticket prices.
Show includes adult language.