Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It’s a Dog’s Life at Mask & Mirror

Sylvia -Amelia Morgan-Rothschild; Greg-Michael
Allen; Kate-Phyllis Fort
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

As reviewers, we never cease to marvel at the talent that is found on even the smallest of Washington County’s stages. This was driven home to us Saturday night with Mask & Mirror’s hilarious production of Sylvia. Director Gary Roman has drawn a group of fine actors to “The Stage” at Tigard’s Calvin Church, and the opening night audience clearly appreciated this great team effort.

Author A. R. Gurney’s basic story is not terribly new or terribly complicated. A middle-aged couple (Phyllis and Greg) with empty-nest syndrome work through their respective mid-life crises – Kate by pursuing a lofty and rewarding career, Greg by abandoning a corporate job that he finds increasingly meaningless, instead seeking to get “back to nature.” Greg finds an abandoned dog (Sylvia) in the park, and brings her home to their New York City apartment. Kate is not amused – although not a dog-hater, she has been looking forward to a nice, clean adult world for the post-mommy phase of her life. The story revolves around Sylvia’s impact – first in tearing Greg and Kate apart, ultimately in bringing them back together.
Sylvia -Amelia Morgan-Rothschild; Greg-Michael Allen

W. C. Fields once warned fellow thespians never to share a stage with dogs or children (scene-stealers all), and although Sylvia is played by a human (Amelia Morgan-Rothschild), she poses the same threat. This relative newcomer to the Portland area is one of the finest actresses we have seen in recent years – her performance is agile, cute, brash, powerful, and mercurial, and she manages the frequent transitions from almost human to utterly dog with aplomb.  An added bonus is the few brief moments of a cappella work that give the audience a hint of her marvelous singing voice.

Luckily, the rest of the cast members carry their own weight quite nicely. Michael Allen and Phyllis Fort give solid performances as Greg and Kate. While Greg is clearly enamored of his lively new companion, he makes it equally clear that he really cares about Kate, despite her inability to accept his changing needs. Allen creates a likeable guy who captures the audience’s sympathy for his plight – trapped between two women, and wanting to keep both in his life. Fort has the greater challenge, at least in a room full of dog-lovers. She can be, as Sylvia points out, something of a bitch (ironic, eh?), and her relentless campaign to drive Sylvia out of their lives wins her no brownie points. However, her finest moment in the show is the one where she wins back the audience while obsessively searching for Sylvia’s red ball. In this scene, she believably reconnects with the maternal side that seemed to have vanished from her life.

The other members of the tiny cast include Diana LoVerso, who shines in her tiny role as Phyllis, Kate’s college friend - we hope to have the chance to see her do more. Tom, a man in the dog park who philosophizes about the importance of spaying Sylvia (but would never consider neutering his manly Bowser) is played by a woman, G. Moshovsky, who brings a convincing machismo to her sexist role. Continuing this gender-bending trend is B. Hare as Leslie, the marriage counselor. While Hare is male, the character is deliberately ambiguous about his/her gender, asking clients to assign gender based on their own preconceptions. Hare’s few minutes on stage effectively summarize the play’s broader themes about how gender roles can shift (with or without the services of a good veterinarian!).
Sylvia -Amelia Morgan-Rothschild; Greg-Michael
Allen; Kate-Phyllis Fort; Phyllis-Diana LoVerso
The humans’ costumes, while appropriate, are basically just clothes (although Leslie’s is gaudily sexless).  Sylvia, however, is nothing short of spectacular in her various incarnations, from tattered street-dog to post-grooming, prancing diva. The set is basic, but functional – a simple living room, a bench, and the New York skyline, all surrounded by U-shaped seating that brings the audience within a few feet of the action. The lighting supports the show’s shifting moods, especially at the end (dog-lovers, bring your hankies).

To honor Sylvia’s animal-loving themes, Mask & Mirror has identified five animal welfare groups (Animal Aid, Fences for Fido, Indigo Rescue, Oregon Dachshund Rescue, and Pacific Pug Rescue) as beneficiaries. The theater will donate $1.00 for each attendee who mentions one of these great non-profits when tickets are sold.

Sylvia runs through Sunday, March 16th at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. 

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