Top Dog – a mini-review of “Sylvia”

By Lonnie the Theater Lady

Greg (Michael Shahen) hates his job and is experiencing a midlife crisis. Sylvia (Rebekah Hukill), a stray dog, charms Greg when they meet in the neighborhood park.  Greg brings Sylvia home—much to the dismay of his wife, Kate (Diana Ifft). She reasonably points out that a dog would be an inconvenience and would interfere with their active social life. Besides, a small New York City apartment is far from the ideal place for a dog to live. However, Greg feels differently and Sylvia stays, at Greg’s insistence. That’s where the marital tug of war starts because of Mark’s over the top affection for the anthropomorphic Sylvia.

Michael Shehan and Rebekah Hukill in “Sylvia.” Hawk Photography, Multimedia LLC
I have seen two productions of Sylvia before this one. Both of which gave off a somewhat  cringeworthy vibe. The previous productions sexualized Sylvia so that it made Greg’s affection for her feel a bit creepy. I prefer the choice that director (doubling as set designer), Robert Hockenberry makes. He keeps Sylvia’s behaviors puppy playful with lots of doggy charm and girlish appeal. No cringe, just hilarity! The austere set reflects a typical, tasteful WASP apartment in New York City in the 1990’s. It’s serenity is a good backdrop for the conflict that Sylvia brings into their lives.
Michael Shehan and Rebekah Hukill in “Sylvia.” Hawk Photography, Multimedia LLC
Rebekah Hukill clearly loves playing Sylvia. She wholeheartedly throws herself into her role with no inhibitions. She’s as frisky and energetic as a young pup. She struts, growls, sniffs,  yips and swears her way into our hearts. Her physicality is perfect, exuberant  and extremely humorous. She blossoms into a preening, hilarious, doggy diva after an appointment at the  groomer. The scene when she encounters a cat is comically memorable. The salty language and growling voice make no bones about her feelings about cats! She frequently leaves the audience howling with laughter.
Diana Ifft and Rebekah Hukill in “Sylvia.” Hawk Photography, Multimedia LLC
Michael Shahen, gives life to the somewhat clueless, amiable, sweet, confused Mark. His affection for and devotion to Sylvia is believable. He, too, gets a large portion of the many laughs in this show. Shahen makes Mark likable even when he appears to be somewhat ridiculous.
Diana Ifft, is a sympathetic  character who doesn’t have much affection for Sylvia—often referring to her as Saliva. Ifft plays Kate with humanity, patience and  an air of refined, quiet dignity.
Leslie (Anne Marie Sweeny) plays the androgynous therapist. The short haircut, unisex suit, and body movements leave us confused about her sexuality, much like the “Pat” character on SNL. A very funny scene occurs in the therapist’s office. We watch her calm demeanor as a therapist gradually gives way to rabid screaming.
The entire cast has a keen sense of comic timing. Their energy never wanes. The pace moves smoothly and quickly.
Sylvia is an exuberant, quirky, delightful, hilarious show that will leave you feeling happier than a dog with two tails! I rate this production a 5/5 on the (imaginary) Milk Bone Scale of Comedy Excellence. A laugh a minute!
“Sylvia” runs June 1-17 at the South Park Theater, Brownsville Rd &, Corrigan Dr, South Park Township, PA. For more information, click here

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