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Me or the dog! The Theatre Factory's 'Sylvia' explores struggle of pet ownership

| Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
Jennifer Chervenick (from left), Claire Sabatine and  Terry Westwood rehearse a scene from 'Sylvia' Feb. 15-25 at The Theatre Factory, Trafford
Angela Bender
Jennifer Chervenick (from left), Claire Sabatine and Terry Westwood rehearse a scene from 'Sylvia' Feb. 15-25 at The Theatre Factory, Trafford

Psychologists have written books about the feelings of jealousy among siblings and spouses when a dog becomes part of the family.

Anyone who has been in such situations can identify with Kate's (Jennifer Chervenick of North Huntingdon) dilemma when she thinks her husband Greg (Art DeConciliis of Bethel Park) is paying more attention to his new pet than to her.

In the Theatre Factory's production of A.R. Gurney's comedy “Sylvia,” it turns out that the pup has some problems of her own in dealing with her new pet parents.

Claire Sabatine of Pittsburgh portrays Sylvia and says that her canine character keeps her moving.

“Sylvia is a genuinely sweet dog. She is a character with many layers and she definitely makes me break a sweat,” she says. “This play demands extremely high energy from all of us and keeping that consistent and constant — especially in the more serious moments — has been a challenge.”

The actor also is working to find the perfect blend of dog-like behavior and that of a strong, young woman.

“I want to paint a clear picture of Sylvia for the audience from the very beginning,” she says. “This is a hilarious play about complicated relationships that are also relatable, and I love telling stories that hold a mirror up to society.”

Jeff Johnston of Pittsburgh is directing “Sylvia” and says the story is a beautiful tale of the challenges of marriage, friendship and owning a dog.

“The story is so honest. I fell in love with the show when I saw it in 2013 and the story has stuck with me ever since,” he says.

He has found his biggest challenge in directing the show is in telling Sylvia's story correctly.

“You have to make the audience believe the actress is a dog and not a younger woman without being campy or cheap,” he says. “On top of that, Sylvia speaks like a human, making the entire thing farcical but fun. It's a unique challenge.”

Johnston advises parents to be aware that some of the subject matter and dialogue in the show may be too strong for young audiences.

“While the show highlights dog ownership, there is some adult language that may not be suited for children,” he says.

Also in the cast is Terry Westwood of Monroeville.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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