For more than 17 years, Kari Goetz held on to an abiding theatrical dream: She wanted to play the title role in A.R. Gurney's Sylvia.
"I've wanted that role ever since Sarah Jessica Parker played her on Broadway," Goetz said.
Then came an unexpected text message from her long-time friend Karla Hartley, who had just signed on to direct the Stageworks production of Sylvia.
"You've always wanted to play Sylvia, haven't you?" Hartley texted.
It was as if all the stars had aligned and the theater gods had conspired to rain down their blessings on Goetz.
Goetz and Hartley have both been stalwart and ubiquitous contributors to the Tampa Bay area theater scene for years, but Hartley had never had the chance to direct Goetz.
Goetz is primarily affiliated with Jobsite Theater, and has been working on her master's degree. She was just winding up her schooling, and her Jobsite duties had lightened temporarily
"It's the perfect role with the perfect director at the perfect time," she said.
When she got the text, she only had one question.
"I texted back, 'You're directing, right?' " and when she said yes I knew I had to have that role.
Hartley said Goetz was her immediate choice.
"When I found out I was directing, she was the one that came immediately to mind," Hartley said.
It's an unusual role, and one that not many actors could handle.
Sylvia happens be a dog.
"You have to be able to hit that fine line," Hartley said. "You have to be cute in a puppy way, without being sexy."
Sylvia concerns a couple whose nest has recently emptied as their kids have gone to college. They move into an apartment in Manhattan, and soon hubby finds the titular stray dog in the park. He brings her home, much to the consternation of his wife.
The husband starts doting too much on the dog (who, in the play, is heavily anthropomorphized) and forces crises in his career and his marriage. He spends more time on walks engaging with philosophical discourse with Sylvia and less time at work and at home. By play's end, he has to make a choice between his dog and his wife. His decision is influenced by Sylvia's piquant observations about the human condition.
Gurney's play has been called both a drama and a comedy. It could even legitimately be considered a romantic comedy, with the romance happening to be between a middle-aged man and his dog.
Gurney, who's now in his 80s, is a critically acclaimed American playwright probably best known for Love Letters, The Dining Room and Sylvia. His plays have been popular with theater companies' audiences around the country since the 1980s. His plays are clever, carefully crafted and substantial, but still possessed of a lightness that keep them entertaining.
The cast for the Stageworks production includes, in addition to Goetz, Elizabeth Fendrick, a longtime local actor who's recently returned the stage after an extended hiatus, Ricky Cona, who's been in demand in local theater for the past several years, and relative newcomer Harold Oehler.
Marty Clear is a freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at [email protected]