Perhaps Greg (Jay DeVine) and Kate (Chris Cuffrey) thought that moving to New York City in their empty-nest years would put them close to all the wild nightlife and other goings-on they'd now be free to take advantage of.

But the biggest excitement came to these suburbanites via a good ole trip to the park, where Greg encounters Sylvia (Tatum Tollner), a poodle-labrador mix in need of a new home. His new pup provides Greg with the perfect distraction for the shifts in his middle years, but his wife sees it much differently.

Paper Wing Theatre Company presents the unique comedy, "Sylvia" by A.R. Gurney, opening at their Hoffman Avenue theater Friday night for a four-week run under the direction of Katie Burmaster.

The play opened off-Broadway in 1995 with Sarah Jessica Parker taking the role of Sylvia. It collected multiple Drama Desk Award nominations.

A prolific playwright, A.R. (Albert Ramsdell) Gurney enjoys as his prime subjects the upper-middle class WASP.

Clues to the characters' economic status in this production appear little by little through the back story, said DeVine, who was wrapping up rehearsals in what will be his 20th Paper Wing show.

There is the upscale apartment in Manhattan, Kate's degree from Vassar, discussion of sending Sylvia to wealthy suburbs such as Westchester. As DeVine put it, they have "probably a little more money than not.



As for Sylvia, her lines, says Koly McBride, artistic director of Paper Wing, "are things that dogs tell us, they just don't use words." For example, after her rescue by Greg, a grateful Sylvia stares up at her master with, "I love you. I think you're God."

Yes, the dog in this play talks. No, she does not galumph around the stage in a dog suit. She illuminates fault lines in Greg and Kate's marriage, who are at one point driven to seek out a therapist (Jody Gilmore) that has some very, um, interesting advice for the couple — one of the more humorous scenes in the show.

The lab/poodle mix and the lack of an identifying dog look or costume serve to distance Sylvia from any associations with a single breed of owner or dog that could bias audience goers or muddle the real focus here.

"She's meant to represent a very run-of-the-mill dog," according to McBride. In the world of blue state/red state, Sylvia is purple.

Sylvia clearly proves irresistible to Greg. Soon, however, he finds himself having to make a choice between his relationship with the dog he loves and the wife he loves.

At the start, though his marriage is "not troubled per se," DeVine noted, Greg and Kate are at a turning point in their lives where "things really could go either way."

"Sylvia starts driving a wedge into something that may have been cracking already," said the actor. "The rift is very possible and it could go a really ugly way."

The final scene of the show is essentially an epilogue where the fourth wall comes down and the main characters have a chance to fill the audience in on how things turned out.

DeVine has always been a dog owner. He has three furry friends at the moment, each of which demonstrates a distinct personality. Like his character, he believes dogs can laugh. "I know my dogs laugh all the time."

Despite its classification as a comedy, like any decent creative work, "Sylvia" is multifaceted. "If you are a pet person or a dog person, I will guarantee that you will cry in this play," said DeVine, who admits to crying more over some of the dogs he's lost than some of the friends. "It's a really easy emotion to call up," he said.

Sylvia brings Greg and Kate to look hard at who they are as a couple. Her presence forces resolution and difficult choices.

The scenes of doggie decision-making may very well put audience members on edge, sending them back to emotional scenes and strong feelings of connection for pets they've loved.

And perhaps that's just what the animals in our lives are there for, to help us access that vulnerable part of ourselves, even at times to see our paths more clearly.

Kathryn Petruccelli can be reached at GO!


What: Paper Wing Theatre Company presents A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia"
Where: Paper Wing Theatre Company, 320 Hoffman Ave., Monterey
When: Opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16; continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Dec 8
Tickets: $23/$20, available at or at the door, half-hour before the performance
Information:; 905-5684