When Leanne Nickon, who plays the title role in the current New Surry Theatre production of “Sylvia,” was a little girl living in Baltimore, a stray dog showed up at her door during a snowstorm. Unable to keep a dog in their urban home, the family gave the stray away. But it came back.
Next they reluctantly took the dog to the pound, but once again he escaped and showed up at their door. At that point, Leanne’s parents relented and Taffy became a member of the Nickon family until he died 11 years later.
“I thought a lot about Taffy when I was preparing for the role of Sylvia,” says Ms. Nickon, which might sound odd unless one knows that the Sylvia in question is a dog.
A.R. Gurney’s play “Sylvia” – which moves to the Criterion Theater in Bar Harbor from the Blue Hill Town Hall Theater for a special run Friday and Saturday, April 1 and 2 – is indeed about a tenacious little dog. Like Taffy, she is desperately trying to make a place for herself in the lives and home of a couple where she is not entirely welcome. That is, the husband is 100 percent sure he wants her and the wife is 100 percent sure she does not. Conflict, involving a lot of arguing, barking and some piddling behind the sofa, ensues.
Playing any role is always a challenge, especially for a relative newbie in the theater world, such as Ms. Nickon, who began taking acting courses with New Surry Theatre (NST) five years ago.
That it is also an entirely different species she is playing brings in a whole new dimension of challenges.
“Although I don’t have a dog in my life, now,” Ms. Nickon says, “I was pretty confident that I knew about dogs in general – how they moved and behaved. I think we all do. But when you have to be a dog, it’s a whole different thing. You really have to be specific. And most of all I had to figure out how to strike a balance between that dog energy and the human side of Sylvia.”
This is an important consideration because Sylvia, in many ways serves as a vehicle to express the feelings her human owners can’t directly express to each other.
Conversely, Sylvia can’t be depicted as too human, lest all the petting that goes on in the play between Sylvia and her master Greg, gets really creepy.
Ms. Nickon jokes that perhaps there is a certain dogginess about her. “It’s the curly poodle hair, maybe.”
“Sylvia” continues its run at the Blue Hill Town Hall Theater on Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26. The show then moves to the Criterion in Bar Harbor on Friday and Saturday, April 1 and 2, for performances beginning at 7 p.m. For tickets and information, call 374-5556 (Blue Hill) or the Criterion at 288-3441.
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