Volume 94, Issue 73

Thursday, February 1, 2001


Life on Canada's hip hop frontline

Sylvia is one for the dogs

An essential album

Sylvia is one for the dogs

Starring: Diana Coatsworth, Phi Bulani, Ingrid Blekys, Steve Ross
Directed By: John Gerry

By Matt Pearson
Gazette Staff

Perhaps you need to be a dog lover to enjoy Fountainhead Theatreworks' latest production, Sylvia. Or perhaps you just need to over the age of 45.

At any rate, Sylvia is the company's second production since its arrival on London's theatre scene last year with the stand-out presentation of Driving Miss Daisy. This time around, the show revolves around a married couple, Greg and Kate, who find themselves in an empty nest after spending years raising children.

While strolling in a park one day, Greg encounters Sylvia, a stray dog he decides to claim for his own. However, trouble ensues when Kate arrives home from work and discovers the new pet, to which she takes an immediate, vehement dislike, referring to her as "saliva."

Despite her objections, Greg convinces Kate to let Sylvia stay, in hopes the dog will release him from the doldrums of a mid-life crisis. As the story develops and Greg spends more time with Sylvia, musing out loud to her about his search for life's deeper meaning, his relationship with his wife becomes considerably strained.

A twist in the early moments of the second act becomes a catalyst for Greg, who must decide which relationship he values more – the one with his wife or the one with his dog.

Though it is nicely staged on the Grand Theatre's McManus Stage, Sylvia fails to open itself up to a diverse audience, especially an audience under 30. The script tries too hard to be hip and instead, comes off sounding awkward and lame.

By using the language that it does, the script becomes disjointed from the storyline and characters therein. It's peppered with profanity, but because the context is off from the outset, the profanities seem present for little more than shock value.

At other points, the story just seems too far-fetched. Greg and Kate raised their children in the suburbs of New York City, only to move into the city when their kids have all left home; a move that allows Kate to teach Shakespeare to junior high school students in Harlem and still afford to live in a swank, Manhattan loft.

Despite an outstanding performance by Diana Coatsworth, who played the title role with admirable gusto, the rest of the cast stumbled slightly. While Ingrid Blekys' portrayal of Kate seems tired and sullen, Phi Bulani's portrayal of Greg appears both awkward and lifeless. Granted, it would be a challenge for almost any actor to avoid being upstaged by Ms. Coatsworth.

The fourth actor in the show, Steve Ross, played three separate characters: Tom, a dog owner Greg meets in the park, Phyllis the socialite and Leslie the androgynous marriage counsellor. Each provided an element of comic relief and Ross played all three well, especially the marriage cousellor, who encourages patients to select the gender they want him to be.

While Fountainhead Theatre may not have lived up to last season's premiere, they have certainly found themselves a target audience – theatre-loving, baby boomers with dogs and mid-life crises. Only time will tell if these horizons will expand.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000