It’s a dog’s life for Sherry Berg. Well, not really, but as she pointed out recently, when she is hired by NextStop Theatre Company, she goes to the dogs. Currently, she is the title role in A. R. Gurney’s four-person comedy Sylvia. “It’s my second show at NextStop. Last year at this time I was in a kid’s show Go, Dog, Go and I played Yellow Dog/Little dog. It’s really funny that I’m only allowed to ever be a dog on stage at NextStop, which I’m okay with.”
Jeffrey Walker talked with Berg just before opening night.
Jeffrey Walker: Without giving too much away, tell me about the play.
It’s really easy to say it’s a play about a dog, but the crux of the story actually lies between a husband and wife who are going through the empty nest syndrome. Greg is just finding himself, whereas his wife Kate is also finding herself in a new career. He is trying to hold on to his youth which he feels he’s losing and he finds it in this dog named Sylvia. It’s almost like this dichotomy where one finds pleasure and freedom when the kids are gone but he feels he has lost his youth and then this dog comes along.
So in a way, this dog comes between them.
Yes, she does. When looking at the script, Sylvia’s part in their relationship can be interpreted several different ways. Is Sylvia cognizant of her actions in this and is she trying to push them away? I don’t think that she is trying to take away the husband. The interpretation, our director Doug Wilder and I agree on, for Sylvia is, in the end, she is just a dog. She’s not trying to separate anyone but there’s this theme of helping a dog literally can come between a husband and wife. There is, I think a bit of how one of the spouses has the fantasy of having a younger boyfriend and girlfriend and how that can be really exciting.
What sort of canine is Sylvia?
We decided she’s a doodle, a cross between a poodle and some type of retriever. A very curly brown, fun, playful doodle. When they told me that’s what I was I was very happy. Paris Hilton had a doodle on TV a couple of years ago and I love that kind of dog.
Sylvia, being a stray dog, is brought home by Greg. Does Sylvia find him or does he find her?
We actually do not see that scene in the play. The play starts with me coming to my new home with Greg. Later, there’s a scene where Greg says to Sylvia, ‘I can’t believe your former owner abandoned you.’ And she says how do you know I wasn’t lost or how do you know I didn’t see you and run to your side? And from the wife’s point of view, Kate thinks he beckoned to the dog and he took her. But it’s really a bit of a mystery. I know I have my own story but I’m not letting anyone know that.
How did you approach playing this playful dog?
The first thing that came to mind, when I started reading the play, before even auditions months ago, I just said Sylvia is such a ham. That is so true of dogs in general. They have short attention spans. You may get mad at them and they feel sad but then in ten minutes, they’re going to forget all about that and just love you unconditionally. I think she’s a lover, above all. I think she is just an unconditional lover, especially of her master Greg, and she’s not trying to get in between the two humans. I approach her human and dog qualities with positive energy.
When you got the part, did you think it would be a challenge or a piece of cake?
I felt going into this, I have this in the bag. Oh, I know dogs! Even though I’m a cat person, my friends have dogs. But it’s not just about being a dog. And it’s not just about having funny, silly moments. It’s about having emotional moments. And just like a dog who has serious emotions and feels those emotions so seriously, it has been such a journey for me as an actor to play those moments truthfully as I think any actor would. Funny thing is, during rehearsals, I found I kept doing cat things. So instead of being more sly and slinky, I had to work on being more clumsy and effervescent.
What does the play say about men and women, their relationships?
Textually, Gurney has many clever things to say about relationships between men and women. I actually think the play puts women in a stronger position and Gurney is saying women are powerful. Sylvia is able to use her other womanly ways over Greg, and Kate is finding success in her new career which is something she has over Greg. Women are often times the rock of the family or the relationship. It also shows the men as the lovers, and the men end up being seen much more as the softies down the line.
Closes November 16, 2014
Industrial Strength Theatre
269 Sunset Business Park
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
The chance to play a dog who gets to observe and reacts a lot must be a fun challenge.
A lot of it was. I think, golly how do I react? Am I overreacting as someone who shares this and doesn’t understand or am I reacting as someone who understands what is going on? It’s really a unique opportunity to bring in all sides of observation and reacting. And there are times when I decide I’m not listening at all and I’m just being a dog.
Is there anything about the play of the production that you think will surprise the audiences?
It’s a story about love and it’s also about self-discovery. And rediscovering a relationship. I would like to think that Silvia, as a lover, projects love and brings love towards her. Even though there’s this odd love triangle, no one ever breaks off.
Any other thoughts on the play?
I was elated to know that NextStop was doing it. I think it’s a great piece and I think it’s a great piece for NextStop. They are really picking shows that I want to see done.
Sylvia by A.R. Gurney . Directed by Doug Wilder . Featuring Sherry Berg, Phil Bufithis, Gayle Grimes, and Christopher Herring . Scenic Designer: Ruthmarie Tenerio . Costume Designer: Kristina Martin . Lighting Designer: Annmarie Castrigno . Sound Designer: Stan Harris . Props Designer: Sierra Banack . Master Electrician: Brian Stefaniak . Scenic Painter: Michelle Urcuyo . Production Stage Manager: Cris Ruthenberg-Marshall . Produced by NextStop Theatre Company.