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Nancy Anderson's unfailingly hilarious performance in the title role lifts the Cape Playhouse's production of A.R. Gurney's canine comedy. logo
Linda Dano, Patrick Quinn, Nancy Anderson,
and Sam Freed in Sylvia
(© Kathleen A. Fahle)
The work of three stage pros -- Nancy Anderson, Sam Freed, and Patrick Quinn -- in the Cape Playhouse production of A. R. Gurney's canine valentine Sylvia demonstrates how the right application of talent can vault a good play into a peak performance. Only the shortcomings of the fourth member of the troupe, soap diva Linda Dano, puts a damper on the genial proceedings.

One hopes that Dano's many soap fans, garnered over a multi-decade career that has included her Emmy Award-winning role of Felicia Gallant on Another World and stints on the ABC soaps All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital as Gretel Rae Cummings, will give her some slack for her imperfect performance. For one thing, she has trod the boards only once before assuming her current role of Kate, the unsympathetic wife, and her lack of stage experience shows: a voice that's less than clarion, timing that's never quite crack, and a limited repertoire of gestures such as pointing, hand-wringing, and pants-clutching.

Furthermore, Kate is not an especially endearing role. An uptight dog-disliker who's impervious to the allure of the stray played by Anderson, she's the play's designated downer. It would take a charmer like Blythe Danner, who played Kate in the 1995 Manhattan Theatre Club premiere production, to bring life to what is essentially a straw-woman role. It's not surprising that Dano tries to soften the character somewhat. When hubby Greg (Freed) first turns up with his new ward, who leapt into his lap in Central Park, Dano's Kate doesn't immediately freak out. In fact, she's pretty calm, considering the circumstances. As a result, there's insufficient build-up to the female-on-female, mano-a-paw confrontation that caps Act I.

Dano loosens up a bit in Act II, especially when confiding her growing animosity toward and jealousy of Sylvia during a chance encounter with a former Vassar chum, Phyllis, who's a walking catalog of Upper East Side affectations.Quinn assumes the latter role and two others -- one male, one mezzo-mezzo -- with sly panache, earning bursts of applause with virtually every appearance.

Anderson deserves special praise for her subtle and unfailingly hilarious interpretation of the title role. She never does anything so obvious as to imitate a real dog. Instead, she captures the essence of dogginess: the adoring gazes punctuated by pouts and outbursts, the joyous leaps and assorted fits, flea-inspired and otherwise. And you haven't really lived until you've heard Anderson as Sylvia channel a warbly Piaf.

Director Pamela Hunt keeps the pace brisk. Richard Chambers' simple but effective set, aided by Christopher Chambers' lighting, deftly evokes the New York City skyline. Costumer Matthew Pachtman captures the many sides of Sylvia, from scruffy street grrrl to tutu'd near-showdog. The device of projecting a photo of the "real" Sylvia at the end of the show seems over-literal: Wouldn't it be preferable to let the audience retain their own visions of a canine soulmate, remembered or current? Still, one thing is certain: Any dogs whose humans see this show are in for some fond gazes once their owners get home.

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