Review: The Theatre of Western Springs’ Sylvia

Late last year a friend of mine and I were talking about attending The Theatre of Western Springs’ Sylvia. I mentioned that I would like to go as long as I had someone to go with and they felt the same. When word came around that there was a special announcement occurring after Opening Night my friend called me up and we decided that would be the day we would see the show.

So before I break it down here is the quick list:
Acting: Like
Directing: Like
Set Design: Love
Overall: Like

Sylvia, the stray dog that was brought home was played by Jen Torchia who shined and played like crazy on stage. She had the most difficult job in playing a dog throughout the entire production and all the stages that a dog goes through in life with their master / owners / etc, and she did it with such flair and balance that I had to remind myself sometimes that she is an actress playing a dog… it was that believable.

The only other actor that truly shined (in some capacity was Mark Cunningham, who had the triple thread job of playing a straight guy with a dog named bowser (whom Greg – Sylvia’s owner – meets at the local dog park), a married woman who recently got back on wagon (whom Kate – Greg’s wife – is friends with and ultimately vents to about Sylvia) and an ambiguous marriage counselor (whom Kate has gone to for marriage counseling). Having to play three completely different characters like he had to for this particular production is no easy feat and he was completely believable and incredibly comedic in all three.

As for the other two actors who were playing the married couple of Greg and Kate (respectively by Joe Mills and Karen Holbert) were alright for the most part… but appeared off to me in some cases when it came to chemistry with one another but were fairly strong separate. However, in Greg’s case with his interaction with his dog Sylvia… he came off as bit like a young boy with his first maid at times… which was entertaining and off-putting depending on the scene.

I rather enjoyed the fairly simple set, one of my friends that also went commented that the set is exactly the apartment that they would love to live in. It was clean, functional, and believable. By extension the miniature sets (desk and chair for the marriage counseling room and bench for the dog park) were just far enough away from the main set to not be too much of a distraction and enough on their own that one could imagine the other locations outside of the main set.

What was distracting, however, was when the main set was in use and actors had to run off-stage and on-stage for some reason or another… because of just how far one has to walk there were times when it seemed to be almost too far.

After the show there was a “talk back” with the actors where audience members were able to voice their thoughts, questions, opinions about the show. One of the major issues that arose was the word usage in the script was too strong for some of the more sensitive audience members. And in some ways I can understand where they are coming from and from minor assumptions of their backgrounds and by extension tastes.

However… what I was not able to say there that I will say here… the stronger language I think drives the point home of the differences between Sylvia (who uses most of the foul language) and Kate (who speaks much more properly to the point of reciting from Shakespeare) and how Greg feels more comfortable and at home with Sylvia at that moment in time over Kate. Having that jarring difference between the two “ladies” (considering one of them is really a dog) helps the audience members – I think – in keeping the two women in Greg’s life completely and totally in separate and disparate worlds.

Without that difference, it would be difficult for some audience members to truly understand and enjoy the significance this “other woman” would become in Greg’s life and how Sylvia has changed his life for the better… and by extension how it would help Kate loosen up in some ways.

Then again… I am typically seen as being from a “younger” generation… but coming from more of an “old soul” mentality I have learn to marry the two and appreciate strong language when necessary and when it is considered gratuitous.

Ah well… can’t win them all.

All in all… I was pleased with what I saw, and I did find it mildly entertaining how a friend of mine mentioned that in watching Sylvia, they found themselves going, “Yup, I totally get it… I am living their life.” Being the outsider looking in, I would have to agree… there will be some people who are probably going to relate to the struggles of Kate and Greg far more than they are willing to admit… and this story does have some lessons to be learn and messages to be heard.

However… at the end, this was an enjoyable show… and one that I was glad to have had the pleasure of being able to see.

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