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David Whiteley and Madeleine Hall. Photo by Julie Le Gal.

Theatre Review: Sylvia at The Gladstone—until 11.17.2018

By Bruce Burwell on November 9, 2018

The latest offering at The Gladstone, Sylvia, is about a love triangle with a couple of interesting twists. Twist 1: the third party in the triangle is a dog. Twist 2: the dog is played by an actress, Madeleine Hall.

The first two parties in the triangle are middle-aged Greg and Kate. They are empty-nester Manhattanites living in a comfortable apartment. Greg works in the financial industry but appears to be losing interest in his job and is rapidly entering mid-life crisis mode. He brings home Sylvia apparently expecting Kate to be enthusiastic about acquiring a dog.

Madeleine Hall portrays Sylvia and thoroughly inhabits the role. She has all the right doggy moves and looks. The scratching, the sniffing, the leash caught between the legs.

Kate is anything but keen and wants to get rid of Sylvia immediately. The rest of the story plays out the tension between Greg and Kate over Sylvia. Supposedly the play is based on a real incident in playwright A.R. Gurney’s life and some of Kate’s lines are direct quotes from his wife when he brought home a mutt unexpectedly.

David Whiteley and Madeleine Hall. Photo by Julie Le Gal.

Disclaimer: I am not a dog person. I do get why people want dogs. And when I meet a friend’s dog, I only pretend to like it when it sticks its muzzle in my crotch. So I was very much on Kate’s side in the argument against keeping Sylvia. However Sylvia is a very appealing mutt and gets most of the funniest lines in this comedy. She is street-wise and quite profane and we never really find out why she was abandoned in a park.

Madeleine Hall portrays Sylvia and thoroughly inhabits the role. She has all the right doggy moves and looks. The scratching, the sniffing, the leash caught between the legs. The muzzle in the crotch. The ball that gets dropped at the feet. The adoring looks. It could all have been taken too far in the paws of another actress. However she gets exactly the right balance between revealing her inner dog and bringing a human voice to doggy concerns.

David Whiteley and Jerushah Wright. Photo by Julie Le Gal.

David Whiteley is Greg and does a solid job as a very lost middle-aged man. Doreen Taylor-Claxton is Kate and makes the character human and empathetic. I also really enjoyed Jerushah Wright’s contribution in three different roles, especially as Tom the vaguely threatening guy Greg meets in the park.

Sylvia would be worth seeing for Madeleine Hall’s performance alone. But the consistently amusing script and the very solid cast make it a satisfying night of theatre.


Sylvia continues at the Gladstone until November 17th. The show runs about 100 minutes with one 15 minute intermission. Tickets are $39.