‘Sylvia’ at the Strand

Latest Strand Theater production promises a ‘dog’-gone good time for audiences

“If you have a dog, you have to see this play!”

That is from Bob Gauss, director of “Sylvia,” a comedy written by A.R. Gurney and the latest production by the Swamp Fox Players at the Strand Theater in Georgetown.

Jeff Siegrist, left, as Greg, talks to his new dog named Sylvia, played by Mary Hannah Newton. (Photo by Clayton Stairs / Chamber of Commerce)

“Sylvia,” a Broadway smash when it debuted in 1995, is unique in that a dog – or, at least, an actress playing a dog – is the star of the show. Sarah Jessica Parker, most famous for her role in TV’s “Sex and the City,” was the original actress to don the furry dog suit on stage. For the Georgetown production, Sylvia is played by Andrews High School senior Mary Hannah Newton, who promises to keep the members of the audience laughing because they’ll hear “everything you think your dog is telling you.”

Newton, who plays Sylvia, is a senior at Andrews High School. She says she has watched her dog, Baxter, to get inspiration. (Photo by Clayton Stairs)

Gauss said the young actress is “every bit as good” as Parker was in the role.

Here is the story: After living in the suburbs for 22 years and raising a family, Greg and Kate, played by Jeff Siegrist and Traci Hessler, have moved to Manhattan to begin their lives as an empty-nest couple. But that is all complicated by a new arrival in the house, a dog named Sylvia.

Siegrist as Greg, left, and Newton as Sylvia, middle, await the reaction of Kate, played by Traci Hessler. (Photo by Clayton Stairs)

Newton has acted in other Swamp Fox Players productions including “Almost, Maine,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” She said she enjoys playing Sylvia because she’s free to run around and jump on the furniture – clearly embracing her canine-inspired role.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a role, because I get to act crazy,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about walking; you can run and tip stuff over.”

To enhance her performance, Newton said she’s even got some inspiration from her own dog, Baxter. 

Siegrist as Greg holds onto the leash as Newton as Sylvia “barks” at a cat under a nearby car. (Photo by Clayton Stairs)

“I watch him do stuff,” she said, “and I can incorporate that into my character.”

Not all the production’s characters are enamored with living a dog’s life.

Hessler, who is a veteran community theater actor with Murrells Inlet Community Theater and the Grand Strand Players, said her character, Kate, is a headstrong professional woman who doesn’t want a dog in her life.

“Kate is ready to have some freedom and live life a little bit, and here comes Sylvia to tie them down, so she’s not really happy about it,” Hessler said. “She has had dogs and now she is just ready to have her husband, Greg.”

Siegrist as Greg presents a freshly groomed Sylvia (Newton) to Kate (Hessler). (Photo by Clayton Stairs)

Siegrist, a veteran Swamp Fox Player who was Felix in “The Odd Couple” and a middle-school teacher in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” said through the course of the play, Greg and Kate find their path together, with some help from Sylvia.

“Greg is not happy with his career, Kate is starting a new career and they have just become empty-nesters,” Siegrist said. “There is a lot of stress in that point in people’s marriages. Sylvia is part of the disruption, but I think she is also a big part of them regaining their relationship.”

Gabriel Campbell, a Georgetown High School senior, has played parts in “Almost, Maine” and “Sandy Toes and Salty Kisses” with the Swamp Fox Players before this one. He plays a know-it-all dog owner in the park who gives Greg advice about wives and dogs.

Gabriel Campbell, a Georgetown High School senior, right, plays a know-it-all dog owner who gives Greg, played by Siegrist, advice. (Photo by Clayton Stairs)

“I am basically a macho man and my dog is the big dog at the park,” Campbell said. “It is something different for me because I’ve never played a wise-guy character before.”

Laura Frandkoff, who is acting in her first-ever community theater play, is performing in two roles: Phyllis, a neighbor who is friends with Kate, and Dr. Leslie, a cross-gender character. She said she enjoys playing both roles.

Laura Frandkoff, right, who is acting in her first-ever community theater play, performs as Phyllis, a neighbor who is friends with Kate, played by Hessler. (Photo by Clayton Stairs)

Siegrist said he has enjoyed rehearsing with this cast, most of whom he had not met before. The only actor he has worked with is Newton in “The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee.”

“Everybody has been good to work with and they have had their lines down for quite a while,” he said.

Hessler agreed, saying that it is a very professional group. She also said working with Gauss, the director, has been a joy.

“He is interested in our input, which is different than a lot of directors,” she said. “It’s been a treat all the way around.”

Gauss and the cast urge people who love dogs to come to see the play. He added that the show is rated PG-13 because it has some adult-themed content that is not appropriate for younger children.

“If you have a dog, there is nothing in this play you can’t relate to,” Gauss said. “It is a very funny and fast-moving show.”

The play, Hessler added, is also endearing and poignant.

“If you love dogs, you are going to love this show,” she said. “It is entertaining from beginning to end, so bring your sense of humor and your love for dogs.”

Newton, Siegrist and Hessler have fun playing their roles in “Sylvia.” (Photo by Clayton Stairs)

Showtimes are Nov. 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees on Nov. 10 and 17 at 2:30 p.m. For tickets, which are $18, call the box office in advance at 843-527-2924.

The Strand Theater is located at 710 Front St. in downtown Georgetown. For more information, visit www.swampfoxplayers.com.

By Clayton Stairs / tourism manager for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce