MOUNT DESERT — Rescuing a stray dog is a wonderful but risky thing. You never know what you’re going to end up with – a sweet, loyal companion or a furry little Shiva the destroyer.
This is both the central theme of the play “Sylvia,” now running at the Acadia Repertory Theater in Somesville, and an important casting consideration in that play. The role of Sylvia – a scrappy lost pup found in the park by Greg (Frank Bachman) – requires an actress with both lovability and agility.
Directors Andrew Meyer and Cheryl Willis knew they had the perfect Sylvia when Valarie Falken returned for another season. They would not have taken on the play without her.
Falken is quite simply adorable. Her bouncy, enthusiastic Sylvia is a pup anyone would want to take home. And yes, she has her naughty moments – cursing at cats, chewing shoes and hiding treasured books – but like Greg, we forgive her.
As Greg, Bachman also is well cast, as a man going through a midlife crisis. Sylvia suddenly appears in his life when his kids have left the nest, his wife Kate (Liz Pereira) is preoccupied with her career, and he hates his own job. He is besotted with this creature that worships him unconditionally. It is also up to Bachman to make us believe that the young woman playing a dog, is a dog; otherwise, when he rubs Sylvia’s belly, tickles or roughhouses with her, it would be just plain creepy. Bachman does a fine job making us see Sylvia through his character’s eyes.
As Kate, Pereira also helps us believe in Sylvia, but from another perspective: she loathes the dog. She is at a place in her life where everything is simple, and an energetic, hair shedding, often-disobedient dog does not fit into that picture. What Pereira manages to do, however – and this is hard to achieve – is make Kate likeable, too. We understand her frustration as all of her husband’s love and energy is directed away from her.
In the triple role of Greg’s macho dog park buddy Tom, Kate’s prim and proper friend Phyllis and the androgynous shrink Leslie, Mike Kissin is a hoot. It’s an odd, underwritten part. But Kissin manages to pull it off and really does look like three different people of two genders.
The blue-lit post-modern set by William Preston Kernicki is terrific, featuring the New York City skyline and a marvelous window that changes it’s view depending on the scene. Stephanie Peter’s costumes, especially Leslie’s amorphous getup, are great.
“Sylvia” plays through Aug. 16. Anyone who has a dog in his or her life, misses having a dog or just needs a good laugh should see it.
For information or reservations, call 244-7260 or visit www.acadiarep.com.