250 Word Reviews: Sylvia

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

sylvia

SYLVIA
(Broadway: Cort Theatre)

If there’s one reason to see Sylvia, A. R. Gurney’s 1995 canine comedy making its Broadway debut, it’s Annaleigh Ashford. As the titular tail-wagger, she delights with comic delivery worthy of Lucille Ball and canine physicality that even Lassie would admire. (Credit to “Physicality Consultant” Nathan Peck.)

Unfortunately, there’s no second reason. Under Daniel Sullivan’s direction, the show plays like burlesque for gentiles, more over-extended sketch than play. Greg (Matthew Broderick) and Kate (Julie White) are recent empty-nesters relocated to the Upper East Side. He is unhappily an investment banker, she a do-gooder educator determined to bring Shakespeare to the city’s underprivileged junior high schools. When Greg brings home a stray dog he befriended in the park, he sees companionship and new vitality; Kate only sees disruption of their newly organized life.

While Ashford brilliantly milks everything from chasing cats to being in heat for laughs, Broderick is saddled with the uncomfortable task of making rape jokes about animals mating while not appearing to be a beastialist himself. Robert Sella, juggling a trio of supporting roles, dispenses with all dignity playing two drag parts that might have been amusing to Republicans in the 90s but were exceptionally distasteful to this liberal today. While Broderick manages to deliver one of his better performances in recent memory despite sub-par material, White disappears beneath her underwritten part of nagging-but-well-meaning wife.

While one might imagine this was a charming amusement off-Broadway twenty years ago, today it is largely a bloated embarrassment.

Production photo by Joan Marcus: Matthew Broderick as Greg and Annaleigh Ashford as Sylvia.

 

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