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Sarah Roth came prepared to portray a dog in Albany Civic Theater's production of "Sylvia," so the role wouldn't be biting off more than she could chew.

"I met a Labradoodle, which is the type of dog Sylvia is, and I just watched a lot of YouTube videos on dogs and their mannerisms," Roth said.

The fun, yet difficult, role requires Roth to deliver her lines, while jumping around, wagging, rolling over, fetching a ball and basically doing everything a dog does.

A.R. Gurney's drama-comedy opens Friday night at Albany Civic Theater.

It also helped that Roth had seen the play a few times, including a production in 2005 at Albany Civic Theater.

"I saw that and thought, "That's a part I would love to play." It would be amazing," she said.

Director Loren Dunn said he knew Roth could embody a dog even before the auditions started.

"She brings good energy to the role, and it's a lot of fun to her watch on stage," he said.

The drama follows a middle-aged couple, Greg, played by Tom Martin, and Kate, played by Stephanie Lunceford, who have moved into a Manhattan apartment after 22 years of raising their children in the suburbs. Kate's career as a public school English teacher is beginning to offer more opportunities, while Greg has become disillusioned with his job as financial trader and is entering a midlife crisis.

Walking in the park during his lunch hour, Greg comes across a Lab and poodle mix wearing a collar with the name tag "Sylvia" and decides to bring her home.

When Sylvia enters Greg's life he starts looking at the world differently, with a whole new perspective.

But Sylvia creates domestic stress.

"His wife is just not having it," Dunn said. "Her version of empty nesters and midlife is something completely different than his."

Things get so bad that Kate's best friend Phyllis, played by Colleen Franzoia, and a marriage counselor (Shannon Peters) get involved.

Dunn said the character of Sylvia serves as a metaphor for having an extramarital affair.

Martin mostly agreed. He said Greg's relationship with Sylvia subtly implies an affair, minus the physical aspect. It's simply that Sylvia is available to Greg, whereas Kate is preoccupied with her career.

"Sylvia has the time to do the exploration of Greg finding himself coming from a disillusioned career that's not real to him and living a real life," he said.

"There's a great line that Kate says, 'I almost wish it was an affair, because that I could deal with,'" Martin said.

Sylvia goes through a transition of her own during the play, becoming more human. Roth said her costumes change from a grungy dog at the start to becoming more human-like.

"There are so many feelings within this little package that people will walk away knowing they watched something meaningful," Roth said.

Dunn cautioned that while the play is endearing and funny, it contains a lot of strong language, especially from the dog.


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