(HOST) Commentator Kathryn Blume has been working pretty hard lately. In fact, you might even say she’s been working… like a dog.
(BLUME) I’m currently in rehearsals for Sylvia, the last show of the season at Vermont Stage Company. Originally presented in the fall of 2002, it’s the one show audiences have consistently requested we bring back. It’s also the role with which I’ve been most closely associated. This, I must say, is a rather hefty irony. For all the Great Works of Theater I’ve participated in – Williams, Shakespeare, Chekhov, Beckett – I’ll most likely be remembered for a quirky little comedy in which I play… a dog.
Admittedly, it’s a very funny show. And there’s a universality about dogs and their relationships to their people which most audience members connect to quite deeply. I had a number of folks tell me that this play actually changed their relationship to their dog. But it’s more than that.
There seems to be something about me in this role which generates a kind of copascetic synergy. Sylvia and I, together, are greater than the sum of our parts. Which must explain why, for months after the first run of the show, people would bark at me on the street, and why for years certain long-term subscribers only referred to me by the character’s name. In fact, I had one lady say to me, "Honey, you’re good in everything you do, but you’ll always be my Sylvia."
The question, of course, remains: Why? I am, I’d like to believe, not a dog, but a fully developed human being, with all a human’s complexity and depth. I have more ambition than a dog, more subtlety of thought, more desire for variety in my food choices.
And yet, I have a vivid memory of being in the middle of a performance, audience members practically weeing with laughter all around me, and having the distinct thought: I’m not doing anything here. I’m not really even acting. This is just me! Truth to tell, it was almost a little boring.
Perhaps the key is that Sylvia isn’t really just a dog either. She’s an Idealized Dog, one who talks back, sasses around, and fills the void in one man’s soul so completely that it turns his life upside down. She’s still a pooch of simple needs – food, shelter, love, purpose – but thanks to a clever playwright, she has the capacity to articulate them very, very clearly, and without any of our human neuroses telling us we need to do something more than that with our lives.
In the end, aren’t we all just pups looking for a ball to chase, a satisfying tummy rub, and a decent bowl of kibble? What more is there than loving fully, enjoying unabashedly, and serving completely? And maybe that’s where the play ultimately hits home – in our desire to be that simple, authentic, and fully engaged.
One last little anecdote from the annals of dogdom: I was chatting with a woman who’d played Sylvia at a theater in Ithaca, NY. She said in one scene, the director had her sniffing the shoes of audience members in the front row. As she snuffled intently over a pair of particularly kicky cowboy boots, the woman wearing them turned to the man next to her and said, "Oh! She must smell Fluffy!"
All artifice, all convention, all theatricality completely forgotten in a moment of pure engagement, pure joy, pure belief. Just like a real dog.
(TAG) For more commentaries by Kathryn Blume, go to VPR-dot-net.