NEW YORK (AP) — The following is a review of the Broadway play "Sylvia," in which an actress plays a dog. (Warning to those who look for bones to pick: There will be lots of silly puns.)
Man's best friend may never have a better tail than A.R. Gurney's charming play, which opened Tuesday at the Cort Theatre. It helps when you have a hot dog in the title role and Annaleigh Ashford, a new Tony Award winner, is at the top of her co-me-tick game. She's off and running.
"Sylvia" is about a large, part-Labrador, part-poodle female that latches onto the well-to-do Greg (an appealing Matthew Broderick) in Central Park. He's a restless empty-nester, somewhere "between the first hint of retirement and the first whiff of the nursing home." You might call him a little melan-collie. He starts to truly adore his doggie.
Ashford is stepping into the paw tracks of a character previously played in New York in 1995 by Sarah Jessica Parker, who was dating future husband Broderick at the time. Now, as im-paw-sible as it seems, Broderick is playing Ashford's master. Daniel Sullivan directs with howling success.
The high-spirited Sylvia soon comes between husband and wife (a wonderfully flustered Julie White), who doesn't want to be tied down and fears the pooch will destroy their 22-year marriage. "All you are is a male menopausal moment," the wife snaps at Sylvia.
Ashford, dressed in jean shorts, kneepads, feathered hair, a fuzzy sweater and fur-lined sneakers and bracelets, captures the playful, naughty essence of a dog without being led a-stray by camp.
She sniffs around, loves walks in the park and makes her leg twitch when her ears are rubbed. She also runs through the theater's aisles and tells off a cat in one of the more memorable scenes. Sylvia interacts with her new owners in English but sometimes gets a little confused. She is a projection, after all, of their fears and fantasies.
The fact that Sylvia is an attractive young woman under all that puppy love means the audience may paws to wonder exactly what's going on with this canine-human bond. Relax. Don't ter-rier self up. With the kids gone, Greg needs to be needed again. ("You take me back in some basic way," he tells Sylvia.)
For all the doggie brilliance, there's a fourth member of the cast — a rubber-faced Robert Sella — who is of a different breed, entirely.
He plays three roles, including a dog-lover with a pooch named Bowser, a haughty Manhattan matron who Sylvia turns into a mutt-ering mess, and a marriage counselor of indeterminate gender. He is hysterical.
"Sylvia" has often been knocked as a slight play, one that relies on a single gag. But with this cast and David Rockwell's fine sets, it's a welcome treat. You might even call it fetching.