Review: John Ozerhoski Directs 'Sylvia' for Goshen Players

Review: John Ozerhoski Directs 'Sylvia' for Goshen Players

Nancy Sasso Janis

“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.” - Twelfth Night Act 3 Scene 4

Goshen, CT - On Tuesday, June 13, 2017, the world lost a beloved American playwright. A.R. Gurney, known to all as “Pete,” died at his home in Manhattan at the age of 86. The playwright, who also had a home in Roxbury, CT, wrote about the foibles of traditional WASP society, a group he knew well because he was one of them. Mr. Gurney was the author of many works embraced by community theatre groups such as  ‘The Dining Room,’ ‘The Cocktail Hour,’’ and the two-character ‘Love Letters.’

A bit of a departure for the playwright was ‘Sylvia,’ the work that director John Ozerhoski (the host of 97.3 WZBG’s ‘Backstage with Johnny O’) lobbied to produce with Goshen Players. The comedy is about a middle-aged, middle-class man living in the Upper West Side of NYC who loves a stray dog a bit too much. Greg and Kate are empty nesters who have moved back to NYC after 22 years in the suburbs. Greg finds Sylvia, a street-smart lab/poodle mix, in Central Park and brings her home. The dog, played by an actress, immediately becomes a bone of contention between the couple, and tests their marriage to both hilarious and very touching effect. The play was first produced Off Broadway in 1995 with Sarah Jessica Parker in the role of Sylvia, and it had a revival on Broadway in 2015 starring Matthew Broderick as the dog’s rescuer.

Mr. Ozerhoski invited me to appear on ‘Backstage’ to ask him questions about his directorial debut of a fully staged production. Over the last two years he has directed many one-act plays at area festivals and he did serve as assistant director for the fabulous ‘First Date’ with Goshen Players.  In the program he writes that the experience “was nothing short of a wondrous experience.” The finished product of ‘Sylvia’ was a well-coordinated, despite the modified rehearsal schedule, and exquisitely hilarious production.

The director told me on the air that he had assembled the perfect cast for his first full-length production and he was absolutely correct. There is not a single weak link in this cast of five community theatre veterans. Eileen Epperson of Salisbury, who played Ouiser in ‘Steel Magnolias’ with Goshen Players, had the smallest role as Phyllis Cutler, a friend of the couple but she made it memorable. The director chose to have this actress play the role that is usually played by the person who plays Tom and Leslie. My favorite comic actor Chuck Stango got to play these two wonderful roles in his return to this stage. As Greg’s dog park buddy Tom, he first got to be a guy who is always reading a timely, if oddly titled book. In the second act, he donned a silly wig to play an androgynous therapist who comes to the couple’s apartment; I giggled throughout this performance.

Catherine Thoben-Quirk of West Hartford actually played Beatrice Carbone opposite Mr. Ozerhoski in ‘View from the Bridge’ with Warner Stage Company. Here she is strong in the role of Kate,  a driven English teacher who adamantly does not want to keep the dog. She made us see her character’s point of view while often quoting Shakespeare.

Scott Stanchfield of Torrington had the perfect take on the role of Greg. He told me on the air that he often plays the straight man; he did indeed have a ton of dialogue to master and he did get to show off his comedic chops in this role. Milford resident and new mom Kate Buffone, who I had often seen on the stage of Phoenix Stage Company when she was Kate Samberg, was precast to play her dream role of the title role. A dog. A humanized dog with a hint of canine accessories that talks (and swears,) but still a dog. This talented improvisational actress pulled it off beautifully, sometimes with a tilt of her head, sometimes with bursts of energy, and always with commitment. She lit up the stage whenever she entered it and kept everyone laughing.  

“There's no love song finer but how strange
The change from major to minor
Every time we say goodbye’ - “Every Time We Say Goodbye” by Cole Porter

My absolute favorite part of the play was when Mr. Stanchfield, an accomplished pianist, headed to the onstage piano with a framed photo of the playwright upon it to join Ms. Buffone in a light rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ as they reenact their last parting. It was an adorable accent to the scene that was masterfully performed by both actors. 

Producers Lynne Wilson and Devon Richtmeyer, with the help of a rescue dog, told the audience during the curtain speech that a portion of the proceeds from the production would be donated to The Little Guild for the Welfare of Animals. Wes Baldwin designed the effective lighting, Jim Luurtsema was in charge of the sound and video design, and the great props were designed by both of the producers and Ingrid Smith. Dave Boscarino was the master carpenter for the detailed set and Phoebe Katzin was the costume designer for both the humans and the dog. Bethany Russo, a graduate of Waterbury Arts Magnet School and the sister-in-law of Mr. Ozerhoski, designed the wonderful video of photos of celebrity dog owners and their dogs. I spotted Kathy Cook, Katherine Ray, Matthew Cornish, James Murphy, Priscilla Squires and the director himself.

You don’t have to be an animal lover to love and appreciate this feel-good show. I found it to be the funniest A.R. Gurney work that I have ever seen and kudos to Johnny O for choosing it for the Goshen season and on his impressive directorial debut. Be aware that there is some strong language, mostly by the dog. ‘Sylvia’ runs June 16-25.  Tickets at www.goshenplayers.org and seating is cabaret style, thereby limiting tickets available. A portion of the ticket sales will go to benefit The Little Guild animal rescue in West Cornwall, CT. #MustLoveDogs #SylviaGoshen

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In Memoriam: The Goshen Players would like to dedicate tonight's opening night performance, and the entire run of ‘Sylvia’ to playwright, A. R. Gurney who passed away earlier this week. Thank you for your words, your characters, your talents and your gift to the world of theatre. You will be missed. - posted on Goshen Players Facebook page

Photos by Heather Boscarino

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