As any dog lover will tell you, a pooch is quite capable of talking, if only you know how to listen. Playwright A.R. Gurney (Later Life, The Dining Room, The Perfect Party, Love Letters, Another Antigone, et al.) obviously has this auditory gift. His homage to man's best friend, Sylvia, now being revived at the new Avenue Theater, is an adoring portrait of the theatre's most anthropomorphic canine.

Amie Mackenzie, reprising the title role, takes her personification to a new level, blending the instinctive mannerisms of a mutt with the emotions of a human, blurring the distinction to perfect effect. MacKenzie's athleticism and non-stop playfulness are a tour de force.

Her foil is the mid-life crisis plagued Greg, an alienated stockbroker looking for more meaning in his life. Played by John Ashton, Greg is a easy touch for the street savvy mongrel; delighted by Sylvia's attention and excited by her adventurous predisposition, he falls head over heels.

Mackenzie and Ashton's comfortable chemistry allows director Pam Clifton to push the sexual undertones of their relationship to its comedic limits. Add Sylvia's possessiveness of Greg to the mix, and it's easy to understand the challenges faced by Greg's wife: Kate is an empty-nester, excited by her new career, and protective of her hard-earned freedom from the responsibilities of children and pets. Glenna Kelly handles the challenges with aplomb, drawing sympathy for Kate's new direction, while avoiding the all too easy characterization as the bad person who doesn't want to keep Sylvia.

Weaving in and out of the story at strategic moments is the inimitable Bill Berry, first as the amateur Central Park pet psychologist Tom, then as Kate's incendiary social acquaintance Phyllis, and finally as the sexually ambivalent family counselor Leslie. Master of the dead-pan and innuendo, Barry never fails to create havoc wherever and whenever he appears.

The new Avenue Theater's revival of their long-running hit, Sylvia, closes January 3rd, 2004. 303-321-5925.

Bob Bows

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