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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Sylvia: Theater review by David Cote

“Never work with animals or children,” W.C. Fields famously warned, but no one told Matthew Broderick. As midlife-crisis-stricken Greg in the urban fable Sylvia, the actor must keep a straight face (and the audience’s attention) opposite Annaleigh Ashford’s title pooch. Sylvia is both beast and kid: hyperactive, impulsive and naturally selfish. In A.R. Gurney’s breezy, frisky comedy, the human-playing-canine device becomes a slippery metaphor: When Sylvia bounds happily into Greg’s life, she variously assumes the role of surrogate child, playmate and, unconsummatedly, mistress. But as Sylvia herself would probably insist, she’s just a dumb dog.

Try telling that to a pet-obsessed New Yorker, which Greg becomes, horrifying wife Kate (Julie White, afroth as ever), an English teacher who has gladly ushered the final child to college. Sylvia’s increasing dominance in the domestic sphere and Greg’s idiotic doting drive Kate to distraction and couples therapy (Robert Sella camps away as a vain transgender shrink).

Daniel Sullivan’s spic-and-span production pretty well justifies the Broadway premiere of what is a modest and very Manhattan Theatre Club–type play (it debuted at MTC in 1995). Broderick, perkier than he’s been lately, gets crucial voltage from Ashford and White, both endlessly inventive comedians. Ashford has the showier role, of course, dashing about in fanciful doggy couture (costumes by Ann Roth) on David Rockwell’s fairy-tale Central Park set and keeping up a sassy stream of consciousness. She sniffs strangers’ crotches with impunity; she butt-scoots on the carpet; she swears viciously at cats. What a joy to see Ashford unleashed.­

Cort Theatre (Broadway). By A.R. Gurney. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. With Matthew Broderick, Annaleigh Ashford, Julie White, Robert Sella. Running time: 2hrs 5mins. One intermission.

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