By Aaron Posner; "Sort Of" Adapted from Uncle Vanya; Directed by Jeff Wise
Produced by Wheelhouse Theater Company
Off Broadway, Play/Adaptation
Runs through 4.20.19
The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street
by Linda Buchwald on 4.14.19
Jeff Biehl, Michael Schantz, and Stacey Linnartz in Life Sucks. Photo by Russ Rowland.
BOTTOM LINE: There have been a lot of Uncle Vanyas this theater season, but Life Sucks is a welcome addition.
We've seen our share of Uncle Vanyas this season, from the sublime to the infuriating. Life Sucks, Aaron Posner's modern take, is the latest, and before you say "Vanya fatigue," know that it offers enough differentiation while staying true to the original that it's a welcome addition to the season.
We already had a definitive Vanya in Jay O. Saunders, but Jeff Biehl proves that there is always room for more memorable portrayals of the character. While here he is American, otherwise he has the traits—loneliness, regret—that we've come to know and love about the character. He lives with his niece Sonia (Kimberly Chatterjee) and is in love with Sonia's stepmother Ella (Nadia Bowers). You will recognize most of the plot points if you're familiar with Chekhov's play. Sonia is infatuated with Dr. Aster (Michael Schantz). But in this version, Waffles is Pickles (Stacey Linnartz), a lesbian, and a very sweet character who brings a lot of heart to the production.
There is much direct address and conversing with the audience, which I'm normally allergic to. But here it works, and the audience participation is not the scary kind. It especially pays off for the ending, which is slightly different at each performance.
The tight ensemble, which also includes Austin Pendleton, who seems to be acting in or directing another production every month, is so natural that at times scenes seem improvised (some credit for this must also go to director Jeff Wise). There is only one week left to catch Life Sucks (because hey, it does, and it's also fleeting), but with any luck, they'll bring it back, cast intact, to perform it in rep with Uncle Vanya.
(Life Sucks plays at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, through April 20, 2019. The running time is 2 hours 15 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Mondays at 8; Tuesdays at 8; Wednesdays at 2 and 8; Thursdays at 8; and Saturdays at 2 and 8. Tickets are $20 - $80 and are available by calling 866-811-4111 or at thewildproject.com. For more information visit wheelhousetheater.org.)
Life Sucks is by Aaron Posner, based on Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov. Directed by Jeff Wise. Set Design by Brittany Vasta. Costume Design by Christopher Metzger. Lighting Design by Drew Florida. Sound Design by Mark Van Hare. Production Stage Manager is Tim Love.
The cast is Jeff Biehl, Nadia Bowers, Kimberly Chatterjee, Barbara Kingsley, Stacey Linnartz, Austin Pendleton, and Michael Schantz.