by Beki Pineda
LIFE SUCKS – Written by Aaron Posner; Directed by Helen R. Murray. Produced by Aurora Fox Arts Center (9900 East Colfax, Aurora) through March 17. Tickets available at 303-739-1970 or aurorafox.org.
I love the clever way Aaron Posner writes. It’s half way between a traditional stage production and a cozy conversation between actors and audience. Recent productions of his work include STUPID F—- BIRD done by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and DISTRICT MERCHANT by Miners Alley Playhouse which shared this half in/half out mentality. He takes the navel -gazing characters from Chekov’s plays, makes them more interesting and modern and tells the story all over again with humor and whimsy. STUPID F— BIRD deconstructs Chekov’s THE SEAGULL while the current play takes a warm stab at UNCLE VANYA. NO SISTERS which premiered in 2017 puts THREE SISTERS back on the modern stage. Put aside your college memories of reading or watching Chekov, however; this is a whole new ballgame.
In the original story, a complicated family group lives on an estate owned by Professor Serebryakov who, along with his younger beautiful wife Yelena, has come to visit and deliver some startling news to the inhabitants. Sonya, his daughter, and Vanya, his first wife’s brother, have been doing all the work on the farm and kept it going for him. The other hangers-on include Dr. Astrov, a country doctor who lives near by but likes the free-flowing vodka on the estate; Mareya, the first wife’s mother, and Telegin, who is just there. They all bemoan the boredom of their lives because of living in the country. Both Vanya and Astrov make romantic overtures to Yelena, who rebuffs them soundly. The Professor’s announcement that he plans to sell the estate to solve his financial problems at first shakes up the gathering. However, before he and Yelena leave for their home in the city, everything has been resolved and nothing in the long run changes.
In the new version, once again from beginning to end, not too much changes. We do get a look into the minds and hearts of these characters; we watch them accept their own lives, mistakes, limitations, and hopes for the future. All the while laughing at the cleverness of the dialogue and brilliance of the acting. Each separately addresses the audience, explaining themselves and, in some cases, asks the audience for a response to a question. “Have you ever been in love with someone you shouldn’t be in love with?” Together they explain to the audience what they are going to do in this performance, compile a list of the things they love and hate in their lives, and announce the beginning and ending of each act. Each audience member will find a character with which they can identify. For myself, the Professor’s monologue about the insidious nature and loss of dignity because of aging rang true. “The slow creeping in of small incapacities” is all too familiar. Vanya’s description of himself to Yelena when he admits that he always thinks he looks better than he does; that it’s a shock when he looks in a mirror all seemed very authentic. Yelena bemoans the boredom of being adored. She is tired of men throwing themselves at her when all she really wants is for her husband to believe her when she says she loves him.
Director Murray has pulled together a high profile cast for this production and it shows in the telling. Mark Rubald as the Professor brings a world-weary gentility to his role as he spouts $5 words instead of the more common vernacular of the present company. What a pleasure to see Jordan Leigh back on the stage as Vanya. His heartfelt old hippie amuses and exposes his weaknesses. Dr. Aster (Astrov) is brought to drunken life by Andrew Uhlenhopp in an against-character funny turn. Caught between his futile adoration of Yelena and being an object of adoration himself from Sonya, he walks an emotional tightrope.
The women of the company shine in their interaction with the men. Billie McBride as Babs (Mareya) quietly drinks and observes the little drama’s going on around her. Before the evening is over, she too reveals long held secrets and romantic connections. Susannah McLeod’s tender and fragile Sonia (Sonya) wears her heart on her sleeve and finds a friend in Ella (Yelena) as played by Faith Angelise Goins-Simmons. Faith lives up to the reputation of the beautiful Yelena; it’s easy to believe that men would throw themselves at her. Her weariness with the whole boring situation and her frank discussions with the men in question are realistic and sassy. With her taller than tall husband, they make the perfect odd but loving couple. Missy Moore brings her own brand of quirkiness to Pickles (Teregin) while hanging around and becoming a disturbing presence in most scenes.
The versatile playing space features a spare living room space beside a more spacious garden area with a denuded “Cherry Orchard” painted on the back wall. You don’t need to know any more Chekov than what I’ve described to thoroughly enjoy this witty production. Look for other productions featuring scripts by Aaron Posner; you won’t be disappointed.
A WOW factor of 9!!