Aaron Posner follows up Stupid Fucking Bird with another Chekhov adaptation, Life Sucks

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Philip R. Smith and Penelope Walker in Life Sucks - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Philip R. Smith and Penelope Walker in Life Sucks

By turns homage and send-up, faithful adaptation and freewheeling deconstruction, Life Sucks, Aaron Posner's witty, iconoclastic update of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, is much smarter and more entertaining than its blunt title might lead you to believe. Posner—whose Stupid Fucking Bird was similarly modeled on The Seagull—takes the story and characters from Chekhov's classic play about love, loss, and ennui among the economically besieged late 19th-century Russian upper crust and infuses it with contemporary American sensibilities and obsessions. His Vanya is much more foulmouthed than usual, and more openly angry and disappointed. Similarly, the other characters are much more blunt and more frank about sex than in the original—and eager to break the fourth wall. Remarkably, though, the more Posner diddles with the master, the more masterfully he communicates Chekhov's mood and message: no one is happy with their lives, but it beats the alternative.


It would be hard to imagine a better home for this script than Lookingglass, a company known for intelligent, energetic reimagined classics, or a better director than founding member Andrew White, who's cast his production with nimble actors capable of playing both the comedy and the tragedy in Posner's Americanized Chekhov, sometimes at the same time. Eddie Jemison makes a brilliant Vanya, at once likable and irritating, and constantly making pointed, funny quips about a life he's powerless to change. But then, all of White's casting choices are spot-on, and even when Posner's text dares the actors to stumble—as when characters directly address the audience asking what they think about the play—White's graceful ensemble doesn't. Life may suck; not so this production.

R Life Sucks Through 11/6: Wed 7:30 PM, Thu 2 and 7:30 PM, Fri 7:30 PM, Sat-Sun 2 and 7:30 PM, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan, 312-337-0665, lookingglasstheatre.org, $45-$65.


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