"Sylvia" director Mark Colmer asks the questions, "Do dogs truly love unconditionally?" Can humans truly love unconditionally?" I think all of us would love to say yes to both questions, but if we truly opened our hearts to the question, we'd say, "Probably not." Or in the words of Charles Foster Kane, "To love on my terms, those are the only terms that anybody ever knows." I truly love theater yet here I am critiquing it.
Sylvia, played masterfully by Jackie Shea from the moment the story begins, is a very lovable dog, but she has multiple flaws as well. As the story evolves, it is obvious her presence is going to bring chaos and pain into the comfy old shoe marriage of Greg (Scott Newman) and Kate (Marilynn Hirashima).
Perhaps it is Greg who is being selfish. Scott Newman, as well as the entire cast, has done a marvelous job of reinventing the roles. Newman's Greg is less stuffed shirt, more boyish and at times pouty, giving his onstage wife Hirashima the wonderful comic opportunity to play mom, juxtaposed to a 60-year-old man. Kate is supposed to be the bad guy; however, the audience can't help but sympathize with Hirashima's Kate. During intermission I overheard more than one audience member say, "Just get rid of the dog."
Scott Newman and Jackie Shea share a new leash on life.
JACK GRACE photography
Knowing how the story ends, it was surprising and fun to have a different perspective with age. Watch a favorite old love story and see if you feel differently than when you were 20-something.
As A.R. Gurney's story progresses, we learn about Greg's genetically driven desire to connect with reality. Sylvia, man's BFF encompasses his needs. Greg has paid his dues, the kids are grown and he wants what he wants. The problem is: so does Kate and so does Sylvia. After all, it was Kate who stayed at home, raised the kids, went to night school and inevitably cared for past neglected pets, as all moms do.
"The dog phase of my life is definitely over" says Kate. The three philosophies just don't match up.
Kalani Whitford is fantastic playing everyone else. Tom, a fellow dog owner who offers insight on Greg's needs via dog book expertise; Phyllis, an old college friend of Kate's who brings out the worst in Sylvia and Leslie, a who knows? I'll go with transgender marriage therapist.
Whitford is one of the finest actors on Maui when it comes to little nuances, facial expressions and bits of business in the background. Whenever he is onstage, try not to take your eyes off of him or you'll miss a lot of laughs. Perhaps the funniest moment in the show is Shea's leaping, attacking dry hump onto Whitford's Phyllis.
"She really likes you" says Greg.
A.R. Gurney has written a hysterical comedy but you don't leave thinking about the laughs. You leave thinking, How can I do better at love? Sylvia doesn't stop loving Greg after she is spayed. She thinks Greg is God. Greg never stopped loving Kate, and Kate only wants to fix things.
Costumer Marsha Kelly is truly the best on Maui when it comes to less is more, particularly with Sylvia, transforming Shea from raggy shaggy lost dog to adorable labradoodle to sleek manicured spoiled dog. ProArts founder and production manager Jonathan Lehman designs wonderful photo stills that cleverly shape and frame the simplicity of the show.
ProArts has chosen not to alter Gurney's original script (there are alternative PG lines available); that said, "Sylvia" is not appropriate for children. Director Mark Colmer has delivered an inspired investigation of the nature of love, but the production truly needs Jackie Shea's unconditional commitment as Sylvia for it all to work.
"Sylvia" is a lovely little show and any nitpicky snafus I might include would be nothing more than the nature of live theater. If every real-life love story had an ending like "Sylvia," the world would be a better place. Maybe that is why I love theater.
* "Sylvia" continues through Oct. 23 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Reserved seats are $20 for adults, $15 for students 18 and younger. $15 Kama'aina Nights (Hawaii ID required) are tonight and Oct. 20. The ProArts Playhouse is at the Azeka (Makai) Shopping Center in Kihei. Call 463-6550 for tickets or more information.