Annaleigh Ashford to the Rescue of Sylvia

Congrats Annaleigh! You are so far and away the star and saving grace of this mediawful show!

That’s a new phrase I just invented combining ‘mediocre’ and ‘awful’…redundant? Sure.

Oye...every time a new or old A.R. Gurney show hits the theatre scene - and with his residency at the Signature Theatre, it seems like a show of his opens every other week - I am right there to knock him down, like I’m some anti-theatre theatergoer on the Broadwayworld Message Boards. I just never got the appeal of his writing style - which even on a good day, is just passable - or the not-plots of most of his shows, which have this nostalgic, slice of life, “here’s some white people angsting over their not-even-a-little-awful problems.”

And while I would give some credit to Gurney for providing something outside of the his box with Sylvia - which just opened last night at the Cort Theatre, after debuting Off-Broadway some 20 years ago - this show ranks near the bottom of his output. The entire story, about a middle-aged man interacting with his talking dog, takes the two most obvious jokes of the set-up and drills them to the earth’s core: “THE DOG TALKS AND IS FUNNY, LOLZ” and “THE MAN IS REPLACING HIS LOVE FOR HIS WIFE WITH THE DOG, LOLZ.”

Also, there is a man who dons drag to play different female characters in several scenes because… reasons. Sure, okay, moving on...

The entire affair is just so lackluster and heavy-handed as the characters tell you what they are feeling at all times and walking the audience through every theme, pattern and plot point, as if we can’t think for ourselves, perceive what’s happening or make it through “See Spot Run” without some help. Were audiences unintelligent circa the mid-90’s, so much so they needed a children’s book style of storytelling? Enlighten me, please…had I saw Sylvia the first go-around, not even a part of me would have entertained the idea that this should be revived on Broadway (or, y’know, anywhere else) at any point in the future.

Having said all of that, DAMN...Annaleigh Ashford for the win! As the title character/dog, she is laugh-out-loud hilarious and the one aspect of the show keeping the audience from dosing off. I can’t say I’m surprised considering every role I’ve seen her in - Marcy in Dogfight, Lauren in Kinky Boots and Essie in You Can’t Take It With You - already proved that sight-gag and broad, physical comedy are in her acting DNA. Her portrayal is equal parts dog behavior and bratty teenager and it came together in decent harmony, so much so, her presence was sorely missed whenever she wasn’t on stage. Watching Sylvia go all batshit cray cray at the sight of a cat in the first act was the highlight of the night…and it was solely because of Annaleigh hauling ass.

Matthew Broderick, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. His performance as Sylvia’s new dog owner is so cardboard-ey and monotone, I half-suspect he took a Zoloft before the show began. There was no effort on his part and as his character goes on these long diatribes of whatever the fuck, his “acting” (if you can call it that) grew increasingly dull and uncomfortably bad to watch. Julie White, as the wife who doesn’t take a liking to Sylvia, fairs slightly better, but can’t deliver any shade to her character other then ‘frazzled discontent’.

I’ll leave you with this...every time Annaleigh’s character starting yelling “hey, hey, hey, hey, hey” (a.k.a Sylvia's barking), I just wanted to yell back, “Hey girl, heyyy! Ditch the show and let’s go to Chipotle across the street and talk about how lovely you are. Because, Anna - Sweetie! - this show sucks and you need to hitch your star to something more worthy of your off-the-charts talent."

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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