Dog owners just know that their dog is the smartest, the cutest and the sweetest on the planet. In A R. Gurney's dark comedy "Sylvia," however, middle-aged Greg takes that doggie idolatry to the extreme with the scruffy labra-doodle he rescues in the park.
Renegade Theater company's opening night audience lapped up every ounce of comedy and pathos in this tail's tale, while both howling with laughter and wiping away tears.
Playing the talking, foul-mouthed, funny, sexy, infuriating and utterly captivating title canine role, Mary Fox is fearless and irrepressible, losing all sense of propriety and throwing herself around the stage with total abandonment for two hours.
Sylvia gets most of the big laugh lines, and Fox's comedic timing is impeccable. An audience favorite was Sylvia's manic scene where she goes wild about a passing cat. Her insult, "You're disgusting, Kitty! You're a disgrace to the animal kingdom!" soon devolves into a profanity-laced doggy tirade in which Sylvia calls the "old pussycat" every foul name in her colorful vocabulary.
Fox is the most physical of actresses I have seen in a long time, who uses her body, face and voice to play every emotion with the precision of a virtuoso. Her hair even becomes a character unto itself with changing whimsical bits of coiffure throughout the evening.
Kudos to costume designer Sasha Howell who gives Sylvia a colorful parade of preposterous outfits for every occasion.
Twin Cities-based actors, directors and teachers at Normandale Community College and real-life husband and wife, Sean and Anne Byrd, are fabulous as Greg and Kate, who go to battle over whether or not to keep Sylvia (or Saliva as Kate calls her).
As empty nesters, newly moved to Manhattan, Greg and Kate have entirely different agendas as to where their lives will take them next. Sylvia turns their apartment and their plans upside down.
The Byrds blend the ease of a long-time married couple with the heartache of hitting their marital skids, using their lovely naturalistic acting styles. Both are believable, creating empathetic characters without making either of them a villain.
Adding to the hilarity of the evening is Zachary Stofer, and as he did in this season's "Birds of a Feather," playing multiple characters and giving each his own distinct spins and nuances. Stofer is sublime as Tom, a macho, philosophizing fellow dog owner; Phyllis, Kate's dithery friend from their Vassar days; and the gender-ambiguous Leslie, the couple's therapist.
The "encounter" that the out of control Sylvia has with Phyllis (Stofer in his elegant society matron drag) is worth the price of admission.
Anne Byrd does double duty also directing the show with a masterful hand, keeping this a well-paced production and this preposterous farce from going off the rails entirely.
While a show about a woman playing a wacky dog may sound like something the kiddos would enjoy, this is entirely grown-up fare for those not easily offended by raunchy humor and more than a few of the most colorful epithets in the English language.
If you go
What: "Sylvia" a comedy by A.R. Gurney
When: Teatro Zuccone 222 E. Superior St.
Where: Evening performances at 7:30 p.m. June 7-9, 14-16, 20-22. Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. June 9 and June 16.
How much: $20 for adults, $16 for students and seniors.