Sunday, October 23, 2016


Tanna Frederick, Stephen Howard. Credit: Lia Pearson Photography
Tanna Frederick bounces off the walls as  the lovable pup, Sylvia, for the third time, this time directing herself in the popular show shining forth  at the Odyssey. 

A.R. Gurney's lively story premiered Off Broadway in 1995 and has ever since pleased hundreds of audiences, the Sunday Matinee at The Odyssey: no exception. 

Beege Barkette (l.), Tanna Frederick, Stephen Howard
 The manic energy of Ms Frederick is contagious from the get go as Greg (Stephen Howard) arrives in the townhouse he shares with the mother of their children, Kate (Begge Barkette). The kids are out of the house (though still in college) leaving the empty nest and time for the parents to enjoy the 'stuff' of life.  Greg is dissatisfied with his job with no substance (currency trading) and Kate is finding ways to bring the classics to middle school kids.  Middle age crazy and middle age crisis go hand in hand as Greg arrives home with a wayward pup: Sylvia (director Tanna Frederick).  The upscale set by Mark Kanieff is seasoned with interesting tiny dioramas that depict life in the Manhattan  neighborhood.  I mention these because they are essentially invisible to the audience except for the park bench area where Greg takes Sylvia to romp in a dog park.  This full sized scene is duplicated by a tiny model which is also duplicated again by a teeny tiny model.  The significance of these embedded scenes is not referred to, but add a beautifully artsy flair tothe setting.

As Sylvia, the articulate and hyperactive doggie, Ms Frederick directs herself over the top, literally chewing the scenery with elaborate costume changes as she gallumphs through the lives of Greg and Kate, bringing the energy of the piece to fever pitch.  

A grand triple turn by Matthew Marcy as butch dog owner Tom, Kate's enormous friend, Phyllis and  the androgynous therapist Leslie adds to director Frederick's well timed project.  Whether we are supposed to accept Phyllis as a woman or a transgender is not clear, but her mere physical presence reminded me of Charles Ray's gigantic mannequin!  The wisdom of his ambiguous role as Leslie, deliberately making Kate and Greg deal with their own identities is productive.

The odd conceit of  humans having dialogue with a dog works.  I have issues with the end of the play itself, all neatly summed up through the fourth wall with much too tidy speeches from Greg and Kate, but Fredrick's given herself the lion's share of the schtick and makes us better understand how we may turn our pets into people, not always to the benefit of the family.  Gurney's salting his text with classic references from English Literature shows his scholarship through Kate and adds knowing nods from English majors in the audience.  

High energy and highly entertaining, Sylvia is worth a trip to the Odyssey. It should be on the must see list for folks who are ready for two hours of just plain fun, with some thoughtful provocation driving it at a break neck pace.

by A.R. Gurney
A Guest Production at The Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Through December 2, 2016
Tickets and Information: 800 838 3006  


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