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Normally, I would say that Sylvia — prize-winning playwright A.R. Gurney's whimsical love story about a middle-aged man deep in the throes of a midlife crisis, the scruffy little mutt who gives him a whole new reason to live, and the strait-laced wife who does not share his zeal for adopting this not-quite-housebroken stray — is the cat's meow, or that (rare) shaggy-dog story with a (poignant) point to make. But I try to save the "cat's-meow" comments for reviews for Cats, every couple of years, and my "shaggy-dog" characterization for meandering scripts that Triangle audiences must endure quite a bit more frequently.
Likewise, I ration my "cute as a speckled pup" simile to once a year. This time it applies to Janet Doughty's perky performance as the title character — a feisty Labrador retriever and Poodle mix in the script, a terrier/Poodle mix here — in The Towne Players of Garner's knee-slapping community-theater production of this offbeat romantic comedy by the author of The Dining Room and Love Letters. Under the inspired direction of Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt, Sylvia delivers beaucoup belly laughs and leaves the audience with a smile on its face and a lump in its throat.
Janet Doughty and Rob Smith, who twice teamed for the Towne Players' award-winning productions of Last Train to Nibroc, have great comic chemistry, which they exploit to the fullest while playing Greg, a burned-out big-city business executive, and Sylvia, a spunky stray dog that Greg meets in the park — and brings home to keep, much to his wife's consternation. Smith's disillusionment with the corporate rat race is every bit as palpable as his affection for Sylvia. Doughty's endearing antics as a flea-infested, shoe-chewing mutt who drastically disrupts Greg and Kate's household routine are highly amusing.
Meg Dietrich plays Kate, Greg's increasingly exasperated schoolteacher wife and the show's straight woman, with considerable comic brio; and Michael Armstrong is a scream as Greg's obstreperous fellow dog lover Tom, Kate's hard-drinking old friend Phyllis, and the owlish gender-bending psychiatrist Leslie, whose deliberately androgynous "look" is designed to unearth his/her patients' hidden feelings about sexual orientation.
Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt scores another big hit with this delicious comic soufflé. Her husband, technical director Scott Honeycutt, has done an exceptionally fine job of subdividing the miniscule stage of The Garner Historic Auditorium into Greg and Kate's living room, a portion of the adjacent park complete with shade tree, and a psychiatrist's office. A good time was had by all at the matinee performance last Saturday. This is community theater at its finest.
Towne Players of Garner present Sylvia Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 21-23, at 8 p.m. in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 West Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 students and seniors). 919/779-6144. Towne Players of Garner: http://www.towneplayers.org/.