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Broadway hit questions midlife, american dream

Sylvia tells tale of a man whose midlife crisis results in him bringing home a dog

During a midlife crisis, some men buy expensive sports cars, others start an exercise regiment and others have affairs.

What does a woman do when, during her husband's midlife crisis, he comes home with a stray dog?

Welcome to the Gateway Theatre'season opener, Sylvia, a Broadway hit that tells the tale of a disillusioned stockbroker who brings home a labradoodle called Sylvia, and life is never the same again.

The dog, played by actress Pippa Mackie, befriends Greg (played by Mike Stack) in a New York park. The long-running play takes the audience on Greg's journey as Sylvia makes him take a good hard look at his corporate and family life.

"His deep dissatisfaction with his job is like a noose of the necktie," said Stack.

His wife of more than two decades, Kate (performed by Lisa Bunting), isn't happy that her husband has changed the game and soon tension fills the air, throwing her life into chaos.

"She feels like she's losing control," Bunting added with a smirk, not wanting to divulge too much of the plot. "All of a sudden, she's gone from living in the suburbs and raising a daughter to being an empty nester and living in New York City in an apartment."

Bunting described her character as brisk, efficient and orderly.

"Kate really represents civility," she said. "Yet, this dog comes into their lives and she's confronted with everything that goes against what she knows."

Both actors took time out from a tight rehearsal schedule to speak about the play to the News.

"We have two weeks of rehearsals and lots of dialogue," said Bunting. "I was attracted to this role because, as in other roles, it seemed to parallel what is going on in my life right now."

The seasoned actress relates to her character going through a myriad of changes.

"I've been with the father of my daughter for 21 years and, like Kate, I teach Shakespeare to youth all over the mainland, whereas Kate teaches Shakespeare to kids in Harlem."

For Stack, it was an opportunity to perform in a modern drama/comedy by a playwright he respected.

"The playwright, A.R. Gurney, takes the idea of a mistress and explores the notion with a dog," he added. "It's a novelty play because the twist is you have a dog played by an actor.

"I saw this play years ago when it was playing at the Arts Club Theatre. I really enjoyed it, and so when the opportunity came to play Greg here at the Gateway, I was thrilled."

Although Stack said he's never been a nine-to-five, business suit-wearing kind of guy like Greg, he understands what Greg's going through.

"I know what it's like to be middle aged and questioning what life is all about and if you've made the right choices in your life," he added.

As the middle-aged couple journeys through upheaval, Sylvia makes them confront the notion that perhaps everything they thought they wanted in life, really isn't.

Although it's a comedy, Stack said Sylvia explores the real issue of longterm marriage.

"Gurney has written a timely play although he wouldn't have known it at the time," said Bunting. "This was written pre-911, pre-economic meltdown, pre-Wall Street, and yet it has interesting resonances today.

"For example, Greg talks about his discontentment with the stock market and he's at a place in his life where stuff doesn't mean anything to him anymore. he feels forced to trade money."

Bunting agreed.

"If you look at American politics right now, both camps perpetuate this American dream myth which Kate has bought into and Greg wants to change the road map," Bunting said. "Ultimately, this play is a comedy about a love triangle."

Sylvia debuted in May 1995 in New York, where it had a successful 167-performance run, with a cast, which included Sarah Jessica Parker, who played the role of Sylvia.

"I went home and looked at my cat and wondered, what is it thinking," laughed Bunting.

"Whether you have a dog or not, you'll love this play," added Stack. "There are lots of laughs and moving moments as well. Put it this way, the audience will be surprised."

Sherry Elassof, Gateway Theatre's manager of marketing and publicity, thinks Sylvia is a great season opener.

"It's a wonderful play that is not only very funny, but an appropriate choice to launch a new season," said Elasoff. "Fall is often seen as a time of winding down; in this play, we have a couple whose romance seems to be taking a similar turn.

"Instead, they have opportunity for renewal and a return to the joys and delights of springtime, all thanks to a stray dog."

The Gateway Theatre presents Sylvia on Thursday, Oct. 11 to the 27 on the MainStage, 6500 Gilbert Rd. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the box office at 604-270-6500 or visit