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Sunday, December 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Heavy petting
A man romances a dog in Sylvia
Businessman experiences puppy love.
Businessman experiences puppy love.

A.R. Gurney's Sylvia tells the tale of a 22-year marriage strained to the point of collapse by the husband's extramarital affair. Sound hilarious? Well, it is. Oh, yes - the "other woman" is a dog.

In this Strollers Theatre production (at the Bartell Theatre through Sept. 23), middle-aged currency trader Greg (Riddle Flow-on) is feeling stifled by the meaninglessness of modern life when he brings home a stray poodle named Sylvia (Liz Angle). Sylvia's approach to life is so spontaneous and vibrant that soon Greg is sneaking out of the office to spend time with his beloved new pet while ignoring the increasing resentment of his wife, Kate (Rebecca Raether). Husband, wife and intruder play out the conflicts of dependence and insecurity, jealousy and unconditional love.

Under the direction of Angela Troia, Raether and Flow-on take advantage of Gurney's rich writing. Flow-on's transformation from a garden-variety businessman into a confused and needy human being is gracefully done, while Raether's envy is nicely nuanced. It's hard to say which of Trevin Gay's incarnations is the most side-splitting: the jocular dog-lover, the tipsy Vassar alumna or the androgynous (and seriously imbalanced) counselor. Gay zings through all three roles with panache to spare.

But the play is driven by Sylvia - and thanks to Angle, it succeeds. Like any dog worth her kibble, Angle is the center of attention in every waking (and sleeping) moment. Her Sylvia quivers with wide-eyed adoration as she serenades Greg with "Nearer, my God, to Thee." She swears at cats like a demented sailor and sniffs visitors' crotches in an ecstatic frenzy. Who could resist her? No one in Friday night's audience at the Bartell Theatre, certainly. One of the show's few flaws was that many lines were buried in laughter.

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