Some months back, Brittney Klepper, who has performed regularly in Manatee Players productions, sat in a Broadway theater watching the revival of A.R. Gurney’s “Sylvia.”
“I thought to myself, I’d really love to do this role,” Klepper said. “It’s too bad hardly anyone does this show.”
Not too long after that, Preston Boyd got the assignment to direct “Sylvia” for Manatee Players.
“I wanted Brittney for the role,” Boyd said, “I’ve worked with her before and I knew she’d be great.”
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It seemed like an ideal situation, except for one thing: Klepper had relocated to Minnesota about three years ago.
Boyd took a shot and offered her the role anyway. Klepper eagerly agreed to come back down to Bradenton to be Sylvia. Audiences will get their first chance to see her when “Sylvia” opens its three-week run on Thursday.
It’s an unusual role because Sylvia is a dog.
The story revolves around a man named Greg who finds a stray dog in Central Park and brings her home. He’s becomes completely devoted to Sylvia, to the point where it affects his marriage. Greg’s relationship with Sylvia is an obvious metaphor for an extramarital affair.
Sylvia is a completely anthropomorphic canine. She walks on two feet and curses like a sailor, Boyd said. Klepper sports a couple of dog accessories in the role, but she doesn’t wear a dog costume. Klepper said she essentially plays Sylvia as if she were a human.
Even though “Sylvia” is a show about a talking dog, the people at the Manatee Performing Arts Center want to make sure people know that it’s not a kids’ show at all. In fact, Boyd said, producing artistic director Rick Kerby expressed concern about the amount of foul language in the show.
“We’ve found some creative ways to get around that,” Boyd said. But he adds that he hasn’t tampered with playwright Gurney’s words.
“When she’s supposed to say (expletive), she really says (expletive),” Boyd said.
Besides that language, though “Sylvia” just isn’t the kind of show that young people are likely to enjoy. It’s a very funny comedy, but its ideas mostly revolve around adult issues. Sylvia sparks a mid-life crisis and some serious self-reflection for Greg. That’s not something a 12-year-old is likely to relate to.
“Sylvia” has been popular with regional theaters and it has had a couple of celebrated New York runs. It premiered Off-Broadway in 1995, with Sarah Jessica Parker as Sylvia and Charles Kimbrough and Blythe Danner as the couple. Its first Broadway production opened last year with Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford.
The Manatee Players production also features Mark Woodland as Greg and Tami Vaughan as Kate. Gurney mandates that the other three roles — a man named Tom, a woman named Phyllis and a person of indeterminate gender named Leslie — all be played by a single actor. In this case, that actor is Jalex Scott.
Gurney is one of America’s most often-produced playwrights, with a reputation for sharply drawn observational humor. His best-known works include “Love Letters,” “The Dining Room” and “The Cocktail Hour.”
Details: Sept. 15-Oct. 2, Kiwanis Theater all at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $27-$37. 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.