TheaterMania Logo
Special Reports

Matthew Broderick, Annaleigh Ashford, and More Talk About Their Dogs for Sylvia

The cast of the Broadway debut of A.R. Gurney's play about man's ''best'' friend discuss why that superlative is completely accurate. logo
Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford star in A.R. Gurney's Sylvia, directed by Daniel Sullivan, at the Cort Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

People love their dogs, but the cast of A.R. Gurney's Sylvia (now in previews at the Cort Theatre) might just be obsessed. That was readily apparent at a recent event for the show, a revival of the 1995 off-Broadway comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Twenty years later, the show is bow(wow-wow)ing on Broadway starring Parker's husband, Matthew Broderick.

The story follows Greg (Broderick), an empty nester living on Manhattan's Upper West Side. With the kids gone, Greg feels a void in his life, one that stray dog Sylvia (Annaleigh Ashford) leaps right into, much to the chagrin of his wife, Kate (Julie White).

Unsurprisingly, the entire cast and creative team is made up of dog owners, with the exception of the ever-pragmatic Robert Sella, who plays every other role in the show and is therefore too busy to walk a dog three times a day. As the below anecdotes prove, having a dog in New York City is like having a child.

Annaleigh Ashford stars as Sylvia in A.R. Gurney's Sylvia.
(© Seth Walters)

Annaleigh Ashford (Sylvia)

I've done extensive research for this role: I've read nine dog psychology books and my dog Gracie and I have gone to not only obedience and agility school, but sheepherding class as well. When we went in with the sheep for the instinct test, she looked at me and I said, "Go get the sheep!" And she did! She rounded them up and put them against the fence. So she passed the test. It's crazy that her instincts just took her into a next level. She had never seen a sheep before, but she knew what to do. When Gracie is at agility and obedience, I'm a full-out Mama Rose. I really wanted her to get to Agility III before we left Los Angeles…and she did. We practiced every day. My dog is my child, with a strange fur coat on. We've spent a lot of time together helping me explore what my life would be like as a dog.

A.R. Gurney is the playwright behind Sylvia.
(© Seth Walters)

A.R. Gurney (Playwright)

I've always been a dog man. There were three kids in my family when I was growing up in Buffalo, but I was the one who had to have a dog. I'd look in the Buffalo Evening News to see if there were any dogs for sale. I just loved having a dog. And then I was sent away to boarding school. That's when I became a writer. The first thing I ever wrote was published in the school magazine, and it was called "Will He Remember?" — will the dog remember me when I come home for Christmas vacation? I came home for Christmas vacation. I saw the dog waiting and I yelled for him to come, and he ran out to the street and got run over. The last line of my story was, "He remembered."

Matthew Broderick plays Greg in Sylvia.
(© Seth Walters)

Matthew Broderick (Greg)

Sally was the one whom Broderick's then-girlfriend (now wife) Sarah Jessica Parker based her performance in the 1995 world premiere of Sylvia.

Sally was a great dog. She was very expressive and athletic: great Frisbee dog. She could be aggressive with other dogs. She was a Border Collie, so she was very intelligent. She often stared at me. She had some ODC symptoms. She would circle a tree to jump at one leaf all day. Like my character in the play, I used to find walking the dog therapeutic. But now we have children and you have to walk them to school, so it's not this great opportunity to go for a walk. We have a dog walker for the morning. I only do the night walk, which I enjoy.

Daniel Sullivan is the director of Sylvia.
(© Seth Walters)

Daniel Sullivan (Director)

In the play the dog reintroduces Greg to that caretaker position. I completely identify with that. I have two dogs, and they've done exactly that for me. I've always been a dog person. Right now I have a King Charles Spaniel named Lois, which people tell me is not a dog's name. I also have a Border Collie named Lila, who's a rescue dog. They loathe each other.

Julie White (who plays Kate in Sylvia) poses with her little dog, Lulu.
(© David Gordon)

Julie White (Kate)

My dog Lulu is so good. You know when we raise more for Broadway Cares and we come out and do that speech and pass the bucket around? Well, we did it for The Little Dog Laughed [the play for which White won a 2007 Tony Award], and I was asking how much money we made. It was some paltry sum. So I looked into how much they were making over at The Lion King and it was jillions! And it's because you could have your picture taken with a monkey or whatever… so I decided we were going to try something different. I said to the audience, "We don't have a giraffe or a wildebeest, but we do have an actual little dog." And then they would let Lulu run out onstage. The audience would just flip out. So we sold pictures with Lulu for twenty dollars. People would stay and take pictures. We ended up raising more money than any other non-musical show.

Robert Sella plays multiple roles in A.R. Gurney's Sylvia.
(© Seth Walters)

Robert Sella (Leslie and others)

I love dogs! Growing up, I only had dogs. Then when I got married my wife was a cat person. It's easier for us to have cats in the city. So we have two Siamese cats…even though I still love dogs a lot. If you don't have a yard, or a place for them to go…I think for now the cats make more sense for our lives. I see my friends with their dogs in February…wearing little booties in the ice. Hahahaha.