BWW Review: Aaron Posner's LIFE SUCKS. Urges Chekhov and His Characters To Get To The Point
"How many of you would just... pretty much like to have sex with me?", a character asks audience members in the middle of a play.
It isn't an offer. More like a bit of research by a woman named Ella in Aaron Posner's Life Sucks. (the period is part of the title), though playgoers in the know will recognize her as Yelena, the beautiful woman who is sick of unwanted male attention in Anton Chekhov's 1899 classic, UNCLE VANYA.
After a hit run at The Wild Project, director Jeff Wise's jaunty production for Wheelhouse Theater Company moves to Theatre Row, providing a brisk and frequently funny diversion.
Despite the contemporary setting and language, the basics remain as Chekhov scripted. Middle-aged Vanya (Kevin Isola), lives on the modest salary he allows for himself while spending the bulk of his life presiding over the daily business of his family's estate, owned by his well-off professor brother-in-law (Austin Pendleton) via marriage to Vanya's deceased sister.
His niece Sonia (Kimberly Chatterjee) assists him, but longs for a future as the wife of the handsome and intellectual Dr. Aster (Michael Schantz), who shows her no romantic interest.
Two characters are given makeovers. Vanya's disapproving mother has been replaced by a distant relative, Babs (Barbara Kingsley), a rather well-adjusted artistic soul. The melancholy fellow nicknamed Waffles, a frequent visitor to the estate, is now a woman named Pickles (Stacey Linnartz), still heartbroken from a failed romance of twenty years ago.
Intruding the day-to-day monotony of the estate is a surprise visit from the professor and his new, decades-younger bride, Ella (Nadia Bowers). While Vanya and the doctor are dumbfounded by Ella's beauty, the professor prepares to announce a plan that will affect the lives of everyone in the family.
While Chekhov's play is primarily an introspective study in relationships that simmers until the professor's announcement sets emotions to a boil, Posner's piece is decidedly more energized from the start, with actors instructed in the text that the characters, while fully invested in their own reality, are also aware they are in a play.
"If you aren't interested in love and longing and loss," Vanya advises viewers at the outset, "and how f-ed up the world is, then you may have, you know, chosen your night's entertainment badly. And you can actually leave right now if you want and you'll get a full refund for your ticket. Plus a dollar for your trouble."
"You can probably catch TOOTSIE at the Marquis," Babs chimes in.
The presiding theme seems to be that folks of 2019 don't have the luxury of time to ponder over life's personal tragedies the way people did 120 years ago. Beginning with its title, Life Sucks. takes a classic theatre piece and urges its author and characters to get to the point.