Life Sucks – well, does it? The answer, of necessity, is, “Sometimes, yes.” The question is examined in depth in the show of that name, the last of the current season at New Jewish Theatre. Directed by Edward Coffield, who is taking over the role of artistic director from the retiring (well, from this job) Kathleen Sitzer, it’s a wild, delightful look at human struggles.
Loosely based on Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Life Sucks is an absurdist comedy by Aaron Posner. Posener has done riffs on other well known plays by classic authors of several different centuries from Shakespeare to Potok. You can tell it’s definitely not his first rodeo.
It’s a goofy tale about a serious set of subjects, and the language is perhaps too strong for the Mrs. Grundys among us, but it’s no worse than much adult conversation when folks are upset in contemporary America. And it’s a sterling cast.
Christopher Harris gives us Vanya, full of rants and explanations and excuses, a strong, fascinating character well-portrayed. Vanya and his niece Sonia, played by Katy Keating, run the family property. Keating as the quiet young homebody with a passion for the family doctor, manages to be graceful, naive and full of pain simultaneously as we learn more about her. Dr. Aster is Jeff Cummings, committed to many things including the bottle but not, unfortunately, Sonia, of whom he seems oblivious, but it’s a strong role, well-acted. The expounding, expostulating insufferable professor, Sonia’s father, comes courtesy of Greg Johnston who’s clearly having a good time with this without overplaying. His much younger wife, Sonia’s stepmother, is among the most stressed of the group; Julie Layton carries it off with both heat and aplomb. Babs, a sort of housekeeper is played by Jan Meyer, strong and believable as someone who’s seen the family through the sturm und drang of the preceeding years. And then there’s Michelle Hand’s Pickles, wondrously blithe and mostly totally unfocused. They all rock.
It feels very contemporary and yet a fantasy. Coffield keeps the pace moving without breaking a sweat. The language is full of references to life around us, but the set from Peter and Margery Spack is almost dream-like. Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes, particularly those for Babs and Pickles, add to that feeling. And Amanda Werre’s sound design, including Beatles music on – is that a ukulele or a balalaika? – sets us up before we even start. Maureen Berry uses her lights very effectively.
It’s a rollicking evening, and having seen or read Uncle Vanya before is of fairly slight help, hardly a necessity. Just hold on for the ride; the fun is obvious from the very first few minutes.
through June 10
New Jewish Theatre
2 Millstone Campus Drive