"It''s got drama, soap opera, sight gags, nice comments about relationships, life and caring...and all that good stuff," says director Stephen Moorer about Pacific Repertory''s Sylvia, opening this week.

On a basic level, AR Gurney''s play is about a middle-age guy going through an inevitable mid-life crisis and the dog who adopts him while he''s out taking a walk in the park. When the guy, Greg (Todd Lueders) brings the unruly mutt home, complications arise between dog and wife, wife and husband, husband and dog, and dog and husband''s associates.

"Gurney always has a twist in his shows," says Moorer. "He always has a very naturalistic [writing] style and then breaks into farce for a few pages. He always has a twist. In this case, the dog is played by an actress."

That, in itself, presents a challenge. Although the dog, Sylvia, is gifted with speech, any actor assaying a canine role must also must also adopt the beast''s body language. Los Angeles actress April Bergen, who has an extensive stage resum‚, as well as film credits, was brought in for the role.

"We''ve obviously talked extensively about dog behavior," says Moorer. "We''ve also brought in a dog, and April''s spent some time with this big beast of a poodle."

According to Moorer, a chunk of rehearsal time has been spent working on doggy things--like "jumping around and crawling, and scratching, and preening, and parading."

If it''s been a challenge for Bergen, it''s also been an adventure for Lueders, who has to anticipate and respond to Bergen''s lunges and movements without being mowed down by her affections. "It takes some wear and tear on the old body," says Moorer, "and a lot of rehearsal to make sure nobody gets hurt."

In addition to Lueders and Bergen, the cast features John Farmanesh in multiple "counselor" type roles and Barbara Anderson as Kate, Greg''s wife. Anderson joins Bergen as a new face on local stages, and brings an impressive resum‚ with her, including credits as Raymond Burr''s secretary Eve in the old "Ironside" television series and appearances on "Mission Impossible," "The Six Million Dollar Man," and "Star Trek."

Local audiences will recall playwright Gurney''s name from local productions of Cocktail Hour, Dining Room, Love Letters.

Theater Briefs

Mark Twain

Friday & Saturday, 7:30pm. Performance Art. MacAvoy Lane portrays the celebrated author in a one-man show. If you''re a Twain fan, this is a performance you don''t want to miss. Lane has been doing his Twain impressions for 10 years and has logged more than 2,000 performances, everywhere from Leningrad University to C-SPAN television. He also portrayed Twain in A&E''s biography of the author and the Discovery Channel''s documentary, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Evening performances are about an hour-and-a-half in length, and Lane also presents discounted half-hour, family-oriented matinees on Saturday and Sunday, at 1pm and 2pm. The Wharf Theater, Old Fisherman''s Wharf, Monterey. 649-2332. $15/general; $10/children. Through: 5/31.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo''s Nest

Friday & Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. Dramatic Comedy. Magic Circle Theater''s Elsa Con directs Dale Wasserman''s classic adaptation of Ken Kesey''s novel. It''ll be interesting to see how this production interprets the script. While most productions take the work literally--as the struggle of inmate Randle P. McMurphy against asylum officials--Kesey''s original work rang with bitter condemnation of society at large, and its need to figuratively lobotomize dissidents. The cast features some strong local performers (including Peter Reynolds, Roo Hornady, Rob Foster and Michael Robbins) who have the potential to create a show that is thoughtful, humorous and moving all at the same time. Carl Cherry Center, Guadalupe Street and 4th Avenue, Carmel. 659-8244. Through: 6/21.

Performance Brunch Series

Sunday, 11:30am. Spoken Word. Singer/songwriter Karl Dobbratz joins forces with children''s recording artist Nancy Raven and poet Bill Minor. The General Store/Forge in the Forest, Junipero Street and 5th Avenue, Carmel. 624-2233. $14/includes brunch/general.

Sylvia

Preview Thursday, 7:30pm; Friday & Saturday, 7:30pm. Comedic Drama. Playwright AR Gurney offers up a look at family relationships throught the eyes of an adopted dog. With guest performances by April Burton (as the title pooch) and Barbara Anderson--both of whom have extensive stage and screen credits--Todd Lueders (whose duties with the Community Foundation keep him from taking the stage often enough), and John Farmenesh (a homegrown talent who''s proving himself outside the area), and director Stephen Moorer, who has a demonstrated flair for staging, the show has a lot of potential for success. (See this week''s theater column.) Add to that Gurney''s ability to take a serious situation and turn it into a surreal flight of comedic fancy, and you have a lot of reasons for going to see this show. Pacific Repertory Theater, at the Circle Theater in the Golden Bough, Casanova Street between 8th and 9th avenues, Carmel. 622-0100. $15/general; $8/children; $8/seniors. Through: 7/25.

The Divas

Friday & Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. Comedy. About a year ago, Layne Littlepage debuted her one-woman show, An Evening with Beatrice Lillie (a comedienne from the ''40s and ''50s) to critical favor. This show condenses the Lillie material and adds Littlepage''s characterization of Julie Andrews. Littlepage, who spent a couple decades as a singer and actress in New York, offers up music that is associated with both performers (so look for Broadway music from My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins and Sound of Music). With direction from Kathy Deskin-Jacobs and musical direction from Barney Hulse, this show offers an entertaining evening of theater lite. Monterey Peninsula College, 980 Fremont St., Monterey. 646-4213. Through: 5/31.

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The Drunkard

Friday & Saturday, 8pm. Melodrama. Classic melodrama about the evils of drink. California''s First Theater, Scott and Pacific streets, Monterey. 375-4916. Through: 5/31.

The Miracle Worker

Friday & Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. Drama. We will hold our tongues and refrain from asking the obvious, why this chestnut? Although it''s become a favorite of high school and community theater groups (and possibly, therefore, overexposed) William Gibson''s contemporary classic is emotionally powerful in relating the story of the young, blind, deaf and mute Helen Keller, and her teacher, miracle worker Annie Sullivan. With Jani Davis (who always provides a steady, compassionate quality to her characters) in the title role, this promises to be a good, uplifting--although now-predictable--tear-jerker as the pair triumph over physical and societal adversity. The real question: "Can this production add anything to the two film versions of the story, and the countless stage productions?" The answer: "Yeah, maybe...but it''s gonna be tough." Western Stage of Hartnell College, 156 Homestead Ave., Salinas. 755-6816, 375-2111. Through: 6/20.

The Time Machine

Saturday, 2&4pm. Children. Primarily a show for children, this original show by Carey Crockett follows the exploits of a pair of young children who travel through time with a laptop computer. Ultimately, in the future, "they have to save the world from a raptor who''s come through time. The kids are the heroes and learn how to interact with humans, rather than with TV." Part of Unicorn''s Works in Progress series. Unicorn Theater, Hoffman Playhouse, 320 Hoffman Ave., Monterey. 649-0259. Through: 5/30.

Um...Gee...Um

Friday, 8pm. Performance Art. Theater troupe performs impromptu sketches based on suggestions from audience. Part of Unicorn''s Works in Progress series. Unicorn Theater at Hoffman Playhouse, 320 Hoffman Ave., Monterey. 649-0259. Through: 5/29.

Casting Call

Pacific Repertory Theater is looking for actors, actresses and stage fighters to appear in their annual "Human Chess Game" during the theater''s annual Monterey Bay Theaterfest, 6/27-7/19. Phone Julie or Stephen for interview/audition appointment. 622-0700.

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