This production was scheduled June 21-July 7, 2024.


Relationships between animals and humans can be complicated, given that we are all living creatures. It’s just that some beings—human or animal—may find themselves in very different places along the evolutionary and emotional scale than others. And therein lies an opportunity for exploration.

The play Sylvia, by A. R. Gurney, explores one such relationship. This one is between a dog and her rescuer—actually, rescuers, as aside from the necessary ins and outs of telling an entertaining tale (spoiler alert) this is one dog story that ends happily ever after.

In By the Sea Productions’ version of the show playing in Morro Bay through July 7, the mutt in question is played by the very human Alexis Dyson in the title role, and Dyson does dog so well you won’t question that both species must share a good bit of DNA.

She is rescued by Greg (Daniel Freeman in a soft-spoken, honest performance), who brings her home to the Manhattan apartment he shares with his wife Kate (a sincere and credible Maggie Coons). Chrys Barnes and Laurelle Barnett Kelty are the supporting cast that enable Greg and Kate to examine changes in the dynamics of their lives brought about by a new, somewhat disruptive canine presence in their household.

Comedic complications ensue, with most of the laughs coming from the way that Dyson portrays Sylvia as almost as human in her intentions as her hosts. But not quite—she’s still a dog, and neither the director, Jean Miller, nor the playwright let you forget that.

This may be fine work from Miller (making her directorial debut of a full-length play on the Central Coast), but Sylvia isn’t Gurney’s finest work. It’s a bit uneven given an odd mix of characters, and the ending feels rushed despite wrapping up the story with a coda in which Greg and Kate speak directly to the audience.

If you love dogs, however, this is a performance that gives voice to the voiceless (especially Dyson’s amusing version of barking: a very hearty “hey, hey, hey!”) and supports Best Friends Animal Society’s goal of nationwide no-kill by 2025. A By the Sea Productions supporter is donating $2 for every Sylvia ticket sold toward that effort.

:: Charlotte Alexander