Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 20, 2011


Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, MA
through July 30, 2011
by Barbara Stroup

In a twist on the usual scenario --- "Please Mom, can we get a dog?" --- A. R. Gurney lets his mid-life protagonist propel the expansion of the family in this light-hearted play at Berkshire Theatre Festival. The real center of the play is Sylvia, the dog herself, played by (human) Rachel Bay Jones. Ms Jones captures the antics and habits of everyone's favorite pet with her large eyes and expressive face. If dogs make the best people, Ms. Jones definitely makes the best dog.

Greg's attachment to Sylvia is immediate and adoring - he is clearly a man in love. Sylvia adores him back. David Adkins plays Greg, and to his credit, is an unflinching recipient of licks and love attacks from Ms. Jones, the 'dog.' Dog lovers usually welcome these canine expressions of affection with joy, but it takes a real actor to welcome them from a human!
The conflict in the play arises from the reaction of Kate, Greg's wife, and her attempt to keep the couple on the path they had mapped out for this child-free stage of their lives. Kate is played sternly by Jurian Hughes. The director dresses her in neutral no-nonsense business wear, just in case we need reminding that this lady has a Plan.

Three supporting characters appear, and all three are played with comic excellence by Walter Hudson. Tom, a dog owner, counsels Greg about spaying. Phyllis, an old friend, gives up abstinence after an encounter with Sylvia. Leslie, a psychotherapist, hides all gender clues in his counseling practice, and then challenges Greg to 'guess.' These characters take the play out of the living room making them a welcome addition to the narrative, especially because of Mr. Hudson's talent for bringing them to life. The play becomes a musical at one point, with a trio of "Every Time We Say Good-bye I Die a Little" --- a seriously sad song given a comically bizarre twist.

The playwright resolves the conflict off-stage making the final epilogue seem a bit anti-climactic, but the play deals nicely with the pleasure and peril of canine companionship and its effect on a human relationship -  while dispensing nicely with cats !