By Aaron Posner.
Directed by Andrew White.
At Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago.
Uncle Vanya becomes Life Sucks.
Posner once again reinterprets Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya similarly to his Stupid Fucking Bird take on The Seagull – the hit from a few years ago. I hated that show and I have problems with Posner’s Life Sucks. Basically I’m a Anton Chekhov ‘purest’ who dislikes writers who re-write and bastardize Chekhov’s plays! That was done here by Posner.
I have particularly have problems with Lookingglass’ production including the thrust set design (set/lighting by Brian Bembridge). Director Andrew White’s cast often spoke so softly that I couldn’t hear much of the dialogue. Depending where you were seated (I was in the last row of the main floor, audience left), and given that the cast were blocked all over the multi-level set, many actors simply spoke too softly to be heard for different audience sections. Much of the blocking was center of the thrust – no problem hearing for those in the center. But those of us on the far audience left often failed to laugh or react like others because we couldn’t hear nor understand the quips being uttered. (At the intermission, I asked several folks sitting around me if they had trouble hearing some of the actors. They all said that Danielle Zuckerman, playing Sonia, was particularly difficult to hear. Actors speaking too soft is becoming a problem throughout Chicago Theatre. (BTY, I have had my hearing tested recently and it is ‘normal.’)
Basically, Posner’s conceit was to break the fourth wall completely including actually asking the audience direct questions while presenting Chekhov’s absurd comedy in foul contemporary language with gratuitous use of ‘fuck’ as a main modifier. The bitter rants by Vanya (Eddie Jemison), The Professor (Jim Ortlieb) and Dr. Aster (Phillip R. Smith), among others quickly became trite and tedious.
We hear old friends, ex-lovers, estranged in-laws and sworn enemies grapple and whine about how life, indeed, sucks.. The seven souls talk, debate and grumble about their life as loneliness, regrets, and lack of personal ambition has rendered them unhappy. This play has many fine moments and several strong performances by Chaon Cross (Ella), Phillip R. Smith (Dr. Aster0 and Barbara E. Robertson (Babs).
But, for me the style, the length, and foul language, together with too many angst-filled speeches simply didn’t engage me. The constant negative whining eventually bored me and I lost much of the humor with the poor projection. But, I’m sure many will think Life Sucks is a funny work that has much to say. This play is a ‘love it or hate it’ work. Once the players speak louder, it will engage more audience members. I guess, I just too much of a ‘don’t mess-with-Chekhov’ believer to fully appreciate Aaron Posner’s interpretation.
Date Reviewed: September 17, 2016.
For more info checkout the Life Sucks page at theatreinchicago.com.
At Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL, call 3120337-0665, www.lookingglasstheatre.org, tickets start at $35, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at 7:30. Saturdays & Sundays at 2 & 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through November 6, 2016.