SYLVIA, Organic Touchstone Company. Playwright A.R. Gurney has never been particularly comfortable with sexual themes. Even in Another Antigone, which concerns a conservative classics professor and a fiery coed who find themselves attracted to each other, he spends much more stage time on the clash of their ideologies than on the underlying sexual tension.
But never has Gurney seemed more terrified of sex than in Sylvia. On the surface this work concerns a middle-aged man who allows his pathologically close relationship with his dog, Sylvia, to endanger his marriage. But Gurney’s clever, coy decision to have an actress play Sylvia adds several interesting psychosexual subtexts, including the idea that the play is really about bestiality. A less perverse reading is that Sylvia is about menopausal men who ditch their middle-aged wives, an interpretation heightened by director Jonathan Wilson’s decision to cast sex kitten Rohanna Doylida in the role of Sylvia. Both are ideas cold-fish Gurney is none too anxious to explore.
Instead he gives us two tedious hours of dog jokes and low-stakes relationship scenes. Even though he fills the play with lots of sexy, sexist bits in which a comely woman begs her “master” for love and affection and declares that she loves him all the more when he “hits” her, Gurney–and by extension Wilson and his cast–still believe the play’s central problem is that the protagonist likes being with his dog too much.