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A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia", Starring Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford, at the Cort Theatre
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A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia", Starring Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford, at the Cort Theatre

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Matthew Broderick
Julie White, Roberta Sella
Annaleigh Ashford

(Sylvia Website)

By A.R. Gurney
Directed by Daniel Sullivan

At the
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street

Scenic Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman
Sound Design: Peter Fitzgerald
Music: Greg Pliska
Wig & Makeup Design: Campbell Young Associates
Casting: Telsey + Company, William Cantler, CSA
Advertising: AKA
Marketing: Type A Marketing
Assoc. Producers: Adam Hess, Tom Osteen
Technical Supervisor: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Production Stage Manager: James Fitzsimmons
Company Manager: Lizbeth Cone
General Manager: 101 Productions, Ltd.
Press Representative: Jeffrey Richards Associates

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 5, 2015

Tonight was my first experience with A.R. Gurney’s play, Sylvia, now the eighth A.R. Gurney play I’ve reviewed over the years, on these pages. This 1995 two-act play, that originally starred Sarah Jessica Parker as Sylvia, the dog, found in Central Park by Greg, requires tight chemistry between the four actors, playing seven roles. In this new production, directed by the seasoned Daniel Sullivan, Matthew Broderick (Ms. Parker’s real-life husband) is Greg, Julie White is Greg’s wife Kate, and Annaleigh Ashford is Sylvia. All three actors have been favorably reviewed on these pages, with huge raves for Ms. Ashford. Each time she appears, the comic actress that she is, she garners laughter in the moment of arrival. The fourth actor, Robert Sella, plays Tom, a male dog owner in Central Park, Phyllis, a visiting Vassar friend of Kate (in drag), and Leslie, a psychiatrist who meets with Greg, then Kate, and behaves in traits both male and female, although hardly androgynous. There’s much banter between Sylvia and Greg, who holds his newfound friend by the cheeks, as if she were a baby.

Greg and Kate’s children are now off to college, and the couple has moved to Manhattan with great views. Central Park becomes Greg’s home away from home, and his love life with Kate is waning. It’s discovered that Greg takes afternoons off from work (to be with Sylvia) and is about to lose his job. Kate’s new position as a teacher keeps her busy, and she travels, via the NY airport, to advance her career. Kate begins, quickly, to abhor Sylvia, for claiming her husband’s affection and attention, for soiling the carpet, and for aggressively attacking guests, sniffing them in their private places. Sylvia maneuvers about the carpet on her behind, sneaks onto the couch and chair, and runs wild in the park, finding, soon enough, a mate. As Sylvia, there could not be a more perfectly cast actor than Ms. Ashford, whose youthful ebullience, ingénue honesty, and full-scale appeal make her canine character tolerable, even tantalizing. When she’s rejected in strong terms and ordered to be banished by Kate, Ms. Ashford exudes poignancy and pathos, in stunning sensitivity. Moreover, Mr. Broderick seems genuinely charmed by his stage cohort, and I’d like to see this duo appear in future plays, as the mutual chemistry is remarkable.

The fact that this chemistry is so apparent is exactly what makes Ms. White seem so miscast. After Greg and Kate’s long-lasting marriage, the familiarity, at least, with no apparent conflict (other than Sylvia), appears to be stale. This critique of Ms. White’s performance, in tandem with Mr. Broderick, is in no way a disappointment with Ms. White, but rather a desire to experience a cohesive cast. Ms. White was prone to a series of whining complaints and wriggling body language that just did not sync with the natural ease of Mr. Broderick and Ms. Ashford. As Tom, Phyllis, and Leslie, Mr. Sella was over-the-top stupendous. I’d love to see him in a lead comedic role, especially one with multiple character changes, like the one he sailed through tonight. As Tom in the Park, on a couple of appearances, Mr. Sella was breezy and confident. As Phyllis, he was pure divine comedy, flustered and feminine. As Leslie, in a man’s suit, but with hilarious gestures and doctorly advice, Mr. Sella continued to draw hefty laughter and applause. Mr. Sullivan has directed Ms. Ashford to maximize her consummate, bubbly personality, as well as her stage bonding with Mr. Broderick. It was delightful to hear Mr. Broderick’s campy dialogue, spoken with his renowned and retro, straight man, gestural humor, a cross between Bob Hope and bob Newhart.

David Rockwell’s sets of Central Park, a New York apartment, an airport waiting area, and the psychiatrist’s office have storybook colors and shapes that make them all endearing Ann Roth’s costume for Sylvia, who’s half Labrador and half Poodle, is a combination of a curly, pink-beige sweater, furry cuff bracelets, beige booties, hair ribbons, and a short jeans skirt. Her thick blond curls also add to the Poodle motif. It all works beautifully. Campbell Young Associates did hair and makeup, and, in addition to Ms. Ashford’s bouncy curls, they worked wonders with Mr. Sella’s silky wigs. Japhy Weideman’s lighting is especially effective in the Park, as the sun sets behind a magnificent New York skyline. Peter Fitzgerald’s sound never wavers or muffles. This show is well worth the ticket.

Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford
in A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Julie White and Matthew Broderick
in A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at