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Nancy Rieke, from left, April Peterson and Steve Gardner are cast in The Barn Theatre's production of "Sylvia," opening tonight in downtown Willmar. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)
Nancy Rieke, from left, April Peterson and Steve Gardner are cast in The Barn Theatre's production of "Sylvia," opening tonight in downtown Willmar. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

Barn review: "Sylvia' promises to please

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showcase Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Beneath the bright lights, under the talented direction of Belgrade's Thomas Rosengren, "Sylvia" opens tonight at The Barn Theatre in Willmar -- and this pretty little pooch of a play promises to please.

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When a precocious pup by the name of Sylvia -- brought to life by April Peterson of Spicer -- wags her tail the right way in New York's Central Park one day, the slightly mangy mutt succeeds in stealing the heart and home of main man Greg Thomas, played by Steve Gardner of Willmar.

Greg's wife, however, is less than thrilled with this unexpected addition to their family -- especially when the hairy housemate begins posing a threat to the Thomas' marriage.

Brilliantly brought to life by Nancy Rieke of Clara City, wife Kate's doggone disdain for the somewhat sassy Sylvia is at once understandable to the audience and contemptible to her husband -- who has fallen head-over-paws for his mangy mistress.

Never before has The Barn Theatre presented a cast of characters so gloriously complex. Audiences will surely find themselves torn between loving and hating each member of the ensemble throughout this production of puppy love. In her Barn stage debut, Peterson positively shines as the cute and cuddly canine title character. The need Sylvia feels for a happy home is completely understandable, yet the way in which she manipulates her master and wiggles her way into Kate's world is downright irritating at times.

And when Greg graciously warms to the homeless little hairball, audience members will surely delight in his kindness and compassion. But when he begins to neglect his wife's emotional needs for Sylvia's, one begins to wonder how this crazy crew will ever make it work.

"Dog person" or not, Reike's polished portrayal of Kate's initial inability to welcome Sylvia into her world comes across as slightly selfish and certainly a bit cold. But when she is forced to compete with a four-legged friend for her husband's affections, it's easy to see that she is definitely stuck between a rock and a puppy place.

Multi-cast in three roles as Tom, Phyllis and Leslie, Brent Roelofs of Willmar steals the show in triplicate when he joins the trials and tribulations of the Thomas family. The ever-riveting Roelofs does not disappoint with the spark and spunk he brings to each role, from the devoted dog park daddy to his kooky and somewhat cantankerous counselor.

Overall, "Sylvia" is an exemplary ensemble piece of true talent. The show's spectacular set designed by Rosengren, as masterfully constructed by Mike Rindfleish of Pennock, is highlighted with technical touches by Rindfleish and Lynda Swinney of Brooten. Kudos to The Barn for proving yet again that an adoring dog truly is man's (and woman's) best friend.

"Sylvia" runs at The Barn through April 26, call the box office at 320-235-9500 for ticket information.

Jennifer K. Oakes received a bachelor's degree in 2006 from St. Cloud State University, where she studied English and theater. She spent two years working with the Fire Mountain Arts Council and Roxy Theater in Morton, Wash.

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