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A CurtainUp Review
Life Sucks

And the truth is. . .I want everyone I meet to love me, totally and entirely, day in and day out, just because I'm me. I want to be loved just as I am, on my own terms, by everyone, all the time. That's what I want.— Vanya
Kimberly Chatterjee and Nadia Bowers (Photo:Russ Rowland)
In recent years we have seen many re-imaginings of classic plays and musicals. Often, one suspects, the original authors might not be entirely pleased with the outcomes. But we can't help thinking Chekhov would be delighted with Aaron Posner's Life Sucks, an updated version of the Russian playwright's Uncle Vanya.

Posner came to Uncle Vanya with ample and appropriate experience. He had already come to terms with Chekhov in Stupid Fucking Bird (The Seagull) and No Sisters (Three Sisters). And no doubt the innovative, socially conscious Wheelhouse Theater is the perfect company to produce his latest work, especially when the company's founder, Jeff Wise, is the director.

In Life Sucks we find all our favorite Chekhovian characters: an alcoholic doctor (Michael Schantz as Dr. Aster); a love-deprived bachelor (Kevin Isola's Vanya); an academic pedant (Austin Pendleton as The Professor); a seductive young woman (Ella, portrayed by Nadia Bowers); a plain, hard-working, loveless girl (Kimberly Chatterjee playing Sonia); a broken-hearted artist (Stacey Linnartz as Pickles).

The plot hasn't been substantially changed. Life Sucks, like the original, is about an aging professor who brings his beautiful wife back to his rural estate to meet the family. The wife becomes the center of attention, as the unsophisticated country folk fall under her spell. The professor sends everyone into a frenzy when he announces his intention to sell the estate.

But there are a few difference. Posner's characters use profanity onstage that would no doubt have shocked Chekhov and his audiences. Their concerns reflect modern times. Ella is worried about college debt and the misdeeds of oil companies. The broken-hearted Pickles is a lesbian who, like everyone else, is attracted to Ella. What's more, the actors are continually and delightfully breaking the fourth wall. "We're the actors. And you, of course, are the audience," says Babs (Barbara Kingsley), the potter.

What makes this re-interpretations so funny and so true is the way Posner makes everything that Chekhov sedately states or subtly implies blatantly announced. Thus Vanya says that the Professor is "utterly full of shit." When Babs announces the scene called Three Things I Love, Ella supplies, "That mysterious, unnamable moment when an orgasm becomes inevitable." The Professor tells Babs his wife hates him but wonders if she doesn't love him a little. And as Ella rebuffs Dr. Astor's embrace, she comically cannot control her passion. It certainly helps that the cast is uniformly excellent, with perfect comedic timing and tone.

Somehow, at the end, we are left with the very same thoughts about life that Chekhov would most assuredly call his own: life and its problems are endless, and we are trapped in our limitations. Happiness is fleeting and must be cherished when and if we have the good fortune to find it.

Following are links some of Aaron Posner's other plays previously reviewed at Curtainup:
Stupid Fu**ing BirdSeagull adaptation at Pearl
My Name is Asher Lev
The ChosenAdapted by novel's author and Posner

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Life Sucks by Aaron Posner
Directed by Jeff Wise
Cast: Nadia Bowers (Ella); Kimberly Chatterjee (Sonia); Kevin Isola (Vanya); Barbara Kingsley (Babs); Stacey Linnartz (Pickles); Austin Pendleton (The Professor); Michael Schantz (Dr. Aster)
Scenic Design: Brittany Vasta
Costume Design Christopher Metzger
Lighting Design: Drew Florida
Sound Design: Mark Van Hare
Production Stage Manager: Caitlin O'Rourke
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission
Acorn Theatre (at Theatre Row) 410 West 42nd Street
Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday thru Saturday at 8 PM; Wednesday at 2 PM; Sunday at 3 PM
From 6/04/19; opens 6/16/19; closes 9/01/19
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 13, 2019

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