Sylvia is a dog, a dog that will capture your heart and leave you laughing!

Sylvia is a very funny play, written by Albert Ramsdell Gurney (who has written at least 50 plays, including The Cocktail Hour, the Dining Room, Labor Day and Love Letters) is currently playing in Pleasant Hill, in the Onstage Theatre. It was first performed off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1995. After a couple of very successful months, it moved on Broadway to the John Houseman Theatre, where Sara Jessica Parker originated the role of Sylvia.

Sylvia is a story of Greg and Kate, modern day empty nesters. The children are in college, the suburban home has been sold and the couple has moved to New York City. Kate is Greg’s wife, a lady whose career as an inner-city English teacher is taking off. The long-married couple are touching base with old city friends and spending weekends visiting country friends in this new phase of living. Greg is however, a disillusioned stock broker. His company wants him to sell products that seem irrelevant to him. He's rapidly losing interest in his work and losing his edge as a stockbroker. At the same time, Greg is becoming more and more argumentative, fighting over and over again with his employer. On one hand, Greg’s emotional dilemma is very complex, and he is definitely having a mid-life crisis. On the other hand, his wife, Kate is looking forward to a newly independent lifestyle, now that the children are grown and she is free to explore her own ambitions in her chosen field of higher education planning.

While walking in the park one day, Greg is lovingly accosted and adopted by an apparently stray female dog, a gregarious mutt whose name, according to her dog tag, is Sylvia. Much to his wife’s chagrin, Greg brings Sylvia home and pours out his excitement about his new found friend with his wife, Kate. Caught completely off guard by this turn of events, she is certainly less than supportive about bringing a dog into their newly structured, dependent-free lifestyle in New York City. But for Greg, he has suddenly found new focus along life’s path. Sylvia has become his new “buddy”, his substitute for the disappointments he has been enduring day in and day out on the job, until now! He loves his wife, but is completely flabbergasted by his wife’s hostility and firm resolve that he shall not bring this dog into their life at this particular time. Greg begs for his wife to simply try the dog out for a while, promising to get rid of the dog is the wife truly cannot come to accept her. However, Greg and Sylvia become inseparable, they bond, and Greg cannot conceive of life without the uncomplicated adoration of his new dog, Sylvia. Kate relents reluctantly and feels she may live to regret it!

The play’s primary focus is on Sylvia, and how human an animal can become to us. Actually, Greg was just minding his own business while walking in the park one day, not even thinking about wanting or needing a dog. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a sweet and exuberant dog picks him out of all the people in the park to lavish her attention on. Sylvia says, this is the “man for me” by her actions. Greg is overwhelmed, flattered and excited to find someone at this point in his life who really wants him. When he takes her into his life, she is constantly excited to be with him, to play with him, to climb up in his lap, to do whatever Greg asks of her, to sit, to stay and even to get off the furniture, if he insists. Since the part of the dog is played by a very attractive adult woman, it is easy to see how a man can get seduced into accepting and perhaps even wanting another relationship in his life. Sylvia actually speaks to both humans and they (and the audience) fully understand what Sylvia’s thoughts are, as well as what she does and does not want. It is humorous to see the jealousy that develops between Sylvia and Kate, and how Sylvia is willing to fight for “her man”.

Instead of dealing with another woman, Kate has to deal with a home-wrecker as real and subversive as if she were a young, long-legged buxom blonde adventuress. This home-wrecker has four legs, a tail, shaggy fur and big soulful brown eyes. Sylvia is a cross between a lab and a poodle, and as this "other woman" moves in, the tide of change quickly begins to push Kate out. Poor Kate just cannot understand her husband’s needs and his relationship with this dog.

"Give a dog a woman's name and you'll begin to think of it as a woman," writes Gurney, and Greg does. Sylvia intrudes between husband and wife very effectively, sleeping in their bed, making weekend visits with them and helping to celebrate all special events. Greg even takes Sylvia out to lunch: he's found a restaurant to cater to her, that will even serve her.

What is so funny is how Sylvia takes on human characteristics, such as swearing at cats, as though they were less than desirable humans or pining like a child when she is left at home alone, while Greg and Kate go out. Like a child, she wants to join the other dogs at the park to play. Then her emerging sexuality (as she comes into “heat”) becomes evident as she discovers her first real playmate, “Bowser”, is now more than just a fun-filled friend, he has now become a sexual “hunk” that really peeks her aroused interest! She even discovers that Bowser is not the only “hunk in the park.”

Gurney is a very clever writer and director Helen Means has selected a superlative cast to deliver a richly rewarding evening of theater.

Sylvia is portrayed brilliantly by June McCue. Greg is played to perfection by Barry Hunau and Roberta Tibbitts is outstanding as the frustrated, ambushed wife, Kate. One other actor, Don Tamblyn, plays three other characters, Tom (another dog owner Greg comes to know at the park), Phyllis (a Kooky friend of Kate) and finally, a male psychiatrist, with a lisp, by the name of Leslie. Don delivers all three characters with absolute perfection. This has to be one of his best performances yet, but then again, each actor, delivers his or her role as if they were delivering gold to Fort Knox. And guess what, you get the gold when you attend this outrageously funny, upbeat, kooky carnival of chaos and richly rewarding humor. The set designed by John Allred and the lighting by John Lytle works very well.

This rewarding production plays Thursdays, on May 8th and 15th at 8 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and with Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm on May 4th and 11th. The Onstage Theatre is located in the old Schoolhouse Cultural Center at 2050 Oak Park Blvd., at the corner of Pleasant Hill Road in Pleasant Hill. The tickets are more than reasonable at $15 for general admission and $12 for seniors & students. Tickets may be purchase by calling (925) 944-9006 or visiting the company’s website at, or even purchased right at the door, on the evening when you attend the production. Take a friend (adult) and enjoy a fun evening out, in Pleasant Hill, with Sylvia!