I’m a dog. I’m supposed to hump legs

Have you ever wondered just what your dog was thinking? Playwright A.J. Gurney ponders this, as well as mid-life crises and empty-nest syndrome, in his hilarious play Sylvia, currently running at Alberta Theatre Projects.

The play opens with Greg returning to his New York apartment after a walk in the park. He does not, however, return empty handed. Greg’s new best friend is Sylvia, a poodle/lab cross that just leaped into his lap. Greg’s wife, Kate, is not pleased with the animal. She considers herself free to pursue a career now that her kids are in college and views Sylvia as a new hinderence. Consequently, a strain on their marriage ensues.

The hilarity of Sylvia is drawn from Caroline Cave’s performance as the dog. Cave perfectly portrays her character, helped in no small part by incredible lines ranging from subtle wit to shocking satire. Ever wonder what those angry barks directed at the neighbourhood cat mean? According to playwright Gurney, the dogs spout everything imaginable from obscenities to challenges.

A large part of the humour is physical. Cave often runs around in circles, chews shoes and humps legs. Sylvia features a great effort for realism, which is hilarious to watch.

The story continues with the introduction of several new characters, all played by David LeReaney. The first is Tom, a fellow dog lover and avid book reader, who dispenses advice to the troubled Greg. This advice includes not spaying Sylvia so she’ll have a chance to experience her femininity. Then, in another knee-slapping scene, Tom’s dog helps Sylvia to fully experience her femininity.

LeReaney also plays Kate’s friend, a masculine social butterfly, who is the unfortunate victim of Sylvia’s amorous leg humpings. Lastly, LeReaney portrays Greg and Kate’s couples therapist who suffers from a gender identification problem.

The humour is successful due to its shocking and unexpected nature; clever one-liners don’t hurt either.

It’s easy to see that Greg is suffering a mid-life crisis and Sylvia is symbolic of "the other women." Thankfully, this introspective side of the story is explored, but not so deeply as to interfere with the humour.

Sylvia is playing at ATP until November.

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