The setup: A.R. Gurney's much-loved comedy Sylvia, about a man in midlife crisis falling in love with a stray dog (played by an attractive adult woman), is reborn again at Texas Repertory Theatre, along with all the marital problems that the new relationship engenders.
The execution: The playwright provides a strong comedic script that tells an amusing story with ample narrative, interesting situations and considerable charm as we see young love -- or at least middle-aged puppy love -- evolve. Director Steven Fenley has chosen to have Sylvia, the stray, played by the voluptuous and talented Jen Lucy, who provides some witty canine mannerisms -- I especially liked her scratching at the door when she wanted to go out. Lucy plays Sylvia with style and verve, as a brash, affectionate siren -- no wonder the wife, Kate (Karen Schlag), sees her as a threat. Schlag captures the light touch of a wife dealing with a husband who seems to be regressing, and adds credence to the early scenes as the domestic crisis grows, but is less effective as the seams of the marriage dissolve.
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Alan Hall is wonderful in playing three important roles: a dog-owning Yankee fan, a society matron and an androgynous therapist whose sex cannot be readily determined. The playwright suggests one actor play all parts, and Hall pulls it off with brio -- his characterizations contribute strongly to the production's success. The weak link is Bradley Winkler, who portrays the new dog-owner Greg, and seems to be vaguely unhappy, if not downright miserable, through the events. He finds the words, but none of the emotions, none of the enthusiastic joy of a new affair, and none of the welcome relief that his midlife angst has been solved by adopting Sylvia. And we never see his love for Kate; if this is not a happy, loving marriage, why not just take the dog and go?
The set is quite handsome as well as functional, and incorporating the attractive abstract New York skyline that serves as backdrop into the front door is witty. The costumes work well, except that restraint seems to have been jettisoned for Sylvia's pink outfit. Some of the stage business -- Sylvia running between legs -- is inventive and spirited -- but the poignant epilogue is marred by incorporating a simultaneous scene change.
The verdict: This captivating drama of midlife crisis can withstand imperfection, and the luminous insights and comedic gifts of the playwright shine through, to provide an enjoyable and amusing entertainment.
Through Sept. 11, Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573.