Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle


The Altarena Playhouse of Alameda is currently performing SYLVIA: the story of a dog and the man who loves her . . . too much.


Gene Kahane masterfully directs this delightful, multi-layered comedy by A.R. Gurney that is more about pets owning people than people owning pets.


As Tyler Durden warns us in FIGHT CLUB, "The things you own end up owning you."


Greg (played by Christopher Ciabattoni) is a middle aged urbanite; he is successful in the mundane sense of the word.


Greg is a man of whom Alexander Pushkin would have said, "has substituted habit for happiness."


Given a new found dog, Greg is given the luxury, like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson, of searching for the purpose life.


Kate (played by Leontyne Mbele-Mbong), who is married to Greg; is happily imbibing in the self actualization that Doctor Abraham Maslow prescribes for all of us: Kate is on a bold altruistic mission to bring Shakespeare to inner city middle schools.


While Kate is intelligently ascending Maslow's hierarchy, Greg is neurotically rutted in puer aeternus: he is drawn to a stray dog: Sylvia (played by Analisa Svehaug).


Sylvia is alluring to Greg because of her munificent energy, exuberance and even her unrestrained sexuality.


Above all her doggie attractions is Sylvia's greatest gift to Greg: the rarest of life's commodities: is unconditional love.


Even before Kate witnesses Greg puerile obsession with Sylvia, she is against the idea of owning a pet: Kate wants to luxuriate in all the trappings of middle class urban life and the freedoms intrinsic to a well earned empty nest: dinners out, parties, books, sophisticated friends, travel, Shakespeare and cultivated leisure.


As Greg is drawn into the vortex of the canine home wrecker, he is warned omni-directionally of the perils: his dog-park friend: Tom (played by Jamie Olsen), also an out-of-control dog owner, loses his wife in a power struggle over his randy Fido; Phyllis (also Jamie Olsen): a family friend, has an unnatural attraction to her gold fish; and Greg's androgynous family therapist: Leslie (Jamie again), highlights the risks and choices he is making with Sylvia.


Life goes by too quickly and dog ownership is perhaps an opportunity to if not to recapture lost time, then at least to reflect on it.


Prompted by a certain pivotal manipulation by Sylvia, Kate generously gives Greg the opportunity to transcend the symbiosis he needs with Sylvia and to advance into an adjusted middle age.


As Greg matures, Sylvia resumes her life as a dog rather than continue as the screen upon which Greg projects his psychological wish-list.


As Greg's anthropomorphizing winds down, his relationship with Kate matures.


SYLVIA first opened in 1995 at the Manhattan Theatre Club: it served to launch the meteoric career of Sarah Jessica Parker, who originated the title role; try to imagine the PG-13 entertainment industry without Sarah or the cosmetic industry without her product line.


SYLVIA may be the dog owners' vengeance piece for Andrew Lloyd Webber's CATS.


As Uncle Cusper used to say, "Beware anyone who has a first, middle and last name for his or her cat."


Leontyne Mbele-Mbong has nailed the role of Kate: if any male in the audience has remnants of the eternal child left in him, Leontyne's Kate will stir up feelings of adolescent rebellion.


This reviewer's inner child repeated the mantra: "Take the dog and run!"


Christopher Ciabattoni portrays a Greg that instantly resonates with anyone yearning to get back to the simple pleasures of life.


Such a conspicuously great set design by Darrell Burson is a rarity in community theater: he and Anne Kendall are to be commended.


Thanks to creative artists like Frederick Chacon and Gene Kahane Alameda has quality theater.


SYLVIA is excellent entertainment that will provoke much laughter and some introspection.


For a great evening in the wonderful City of Alameda, get thee to SYLVIA.


For tickets call 510-523-1553 on surf over to