Review: Sylvia (Alumnae Theatre Company)

“Accidentally,” said a woman to the audience, addressing us as the show was to begin, “people on the wait list were allowed in. Tonight’s performance is, sold, out. So, does everyone have a seat?”

Then, referring to a woman standing in the back row, “Do you not have a seat?”

“Oh yes, “she said in reply. Adding urgently, “But I need a program!

The audience broke into laughter. “You can have this one,” a voice called out. “Here, take mine,” offered another to laughs.

Though not uber-slick like, say, Soulpepper – the hair cream of Toronto theatre companies – Alumnae Theatre is pretty much community theatre at its best.

Much like Theatre Caravel, but with its own performance space at 70 Berkeley Street, Alumnae Theatre seems unabashed in putting hosting a good time on equal footing with the substance of its work.

In the lobby, for example, there was a free pot of hot coffee with every imaginable condiment next to it. More than the tangible graces like that though, there just seems to be this spirit there, to accommodate everyone comfortably.

Sylvia Sylvia, is that the one with the dog?” my friend asked me before we got to the theatre.

There is a dog in the plot, I said. But I don’t know much about it – adding, trying to be helpful – it’s by A R Gurney.

“I think I’ve seen this. One of the actors plays a dog.”

My friend was right, though as it turned out, had not seen Sylvia before.

Sylvia is a love triangle between two humans and a dog played by an actor named Lea Russell.

Ms. Russell’s character, Sylvia, is a happy-go-lucky, occasionally irascible (just show her a cat) poodle, brought home one afternoon by Greg, played by Andrew Batten, much to the dismay of his wife Kate, played by Dinah Watts.

Trying to please Sylvia and Kate both is impossible. But before Greg comes anywhere close to figuring this out, we’re already in the second act.

“I believe her as a dog,” commented my friend, smiling, at intermission, referring to Ms. Russell.

Me too.

Virtually every other character plays the straight man to Sylvia’s antics that include: jumping on the couch with the grace of a high board diver; humping a guest – Kay Montgomery playing an Upper East Side socialite in the mold of Brooke Astor; and chewing on – call it inadvertent retrieving – loose footwear. Sylvia can also be a tad vulgar – yes, she talks, and obscenities are a part of her vocabulary, especially around cats (even cat-shaped cookies).

Other characters include Tom, played by Douglas Tindal, and Leslie, a therapist wearing an awe-inspiring unitard, played by Mary Joseph.

Costumes, by the way, are credited to Lindsay Code.

All the performances got big laughs. By far the biggest I have heard at an Alumnae Theatre show (save for one scene in the 2011 New Ideas Festival, titled Francis and Mary-Beth by Neale Kimmel).

I’d strongly recommend the Alumnae Theatre’s production of Sylvia.


Sylvia is playing at the 3rd Floor Studio of Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley Street) until November 26th
– Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2: oo (and pay-what-you-can on Wednesday)

– Tickets are available by phone (call the box office at 416 364 4170), at the box office, and at

Photo: Busted! Sylvia the dog (Lea Russell) is caught jumping onto couch by Greg (Andrew Batten). • Photo by Bruce Peters

Editors’ Note: Enter to win a pair of free tickets to the Thursday, November 18th, 8:00PM performance of the Alumnae Theatre production of Sylvia by A. R. Gurney. Click here for details.

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