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Sylvia "You never say the things to me you say to her, like...'You're beautiful'...or 'I love you.'" The "you" is harried husband Greg (Wayne White), going through midlife crises. The accusing "me" is neglected wife Kate (Ruth S. McCleskey), who knows a rival to her affections when she sees one. The other woman, the "her," is a real bitch, Greg's new dog Sylvia (Renata Smith). She's come into the household and upset everything, including making a mess on the living-room floor. Greg has found his new spark in life. A.R. Gurney's bouncy little bauble of a comedy is an authentic shaggy dog story. If you have a pet, this play will be your chew toy. (I'd say catnip, but Sylvia might bite.) If you're going through marital troubles, however, watch out; Gurney will rub your face in it. He writes about people of a certain social status who find themselves in the throes of comic crisis better than any other living playwright (Mrs. Farnsworth, The Cocktail Hour). Warm and cuddly as a favorite blankie, what sets this far above the ordinary is that Gurney writes Sylvia as a young, attractive girl, which gives the dog a lively temperament as both temptress and perky puppy. It's terribly clever and a lot of fun. No wonder Kate feels threatened by this nubile female plopped down in her house who so easily reroutes her husband's affection. Ms. Smith deserves a heaping bowl of Kibbles for her lovely performance. We first meet her fresh from rescue as a grunge teenager, with torn jeans and wayward sweatshirt, two ponytails draped on each side of her head like beagle ears. She scratches and sniffs, jumps on and off the couch, and circles around before she plops down, happy as can be. By the end of the play, she's outfitted in glamour mode with little black dress, black patent pumps and her hair up. As Greg would say, she's gorgeous. The other kooky aspect in the comedy is the triple role of Tom, Phyllis and Leslie, all played by the same actor (Jim Allman). Tom is Greg's dog-run buddy, all macho bluster, who knows the answers, except when he doesn't. Phyllis is Kate's waspy school chum who can't find the charm in a dog who jumps up and humps her leg. Sylvia triggers all sorts of hilarious confessions from Phyllis about her husband's obsession with his pet — a goldfish. Perfectly costumed and bewigged, Allman stops the show with obtuse Phyllis. In the last act, Leslie is Greg and Kate's marriage counselor whose gender identity problems have a couch life of their own. Throw everyone a bone. Four paws for Company OnStage. Through December 15. 536 Westbury Square. 713-726-1219. — DLG

Viv! In this world premiere from Edge Theatre written and directed by Jim Tommaney (a Houston Press theater critic), there is little evidence of any of Academy and Tony Award-winning actress Vivien Leigh's legendary vivacity or charm. Tyrell Woolbert, slim and sleek in a wonderful black pleated dress, has neglected to bring onstage Leigh's scintillating presence. With a rich, creamy voice much too alto for Leigh's lighter, more scintillating sizzle, she never captures the feline essence of this fascinating yet troubled star, and seems content to play grande dame instead of getting under Leigh's twitchy skin. Portraying a screen and stage supernova so highly etched in our consciousness is a dubious task at best, but the fire's out in this one. Woolbert isn't helped by the leaden script, which suffers its own form of manic depression. The rudimentary bio facts float through, treading quickly through Gone with the Wind, her love of husband Larry Olivier, some dish on movie director George Cukor, teasing anecdotes about Scotty's Gas Station (that infamous gay brothel on Hollywood Boulevard where she would "slum"), but the revelations stay firmly on the surface. Leigh never speaks in her own voice, always quoting snatches from Olivier's autobiography or an assessment from Coward or influential British critic Kenneth Tynan. Then it's on to a cursory passage from T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" or a few lines from Macbeth or Antony and Cleopatra. It's all third-hand info, a play of hearsay through the eyes of others. We seldom hear from Leigh herself. In a hoary device, Leigh has been conjured by devoted fan Robert Strong (James R. Monaghan), who has plastered the walls of his Greenwich Village apartment with her photos and famous confreres. Why Robert appears at all is a mystery, as he has nothing to do but stare adoringly at her and pour glasses of port to lubricate her stories. She doesn't need him to tell her tale, as the play is mostly monologue anyway. Her vanity is fueled by us, not him. Knowing Leigh's well-documented sexual appetites, she would hardly have waited until the end of the play to give Robert a chaste little peck on the cheek goodbye; she would've pounced as soon as she saw him. If you know little or nothing about Vivien Leigh, then Tommany's Viv! will open a small window onto this incandescent but storm-tossed star of stage and screen. If her miraculous Scarlett or brittle Blanche is fresh in your mind — and these performances are as revelatory today as ever — you sadly realize this new stage view keeps her in the shadows, unenlightened. Through December 16. Midtown Art Center, 3414 LaBranch. 832-894-1843. — DLG

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