Let me preface this review by advising that if you are unfamiliar with Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya”, you may find yourself a bit lost with this modern -day re-imaginining by Aaron Posner ( who has done other older pieces of literature as well ). Many may recall the recent production at Steppenwolf of his “Stupid F*#king Bird”. If you enjoyed that work, you will absolutely LOVE this one. Chekhov’s work is about people, his characters and what makes their minds do what it is they do. The human is a complex being made up of many feelings, traits and emotions. Can we all see our own strengths and weaknesses? That is what Posner is reaching for in the two hour and thirty minute 4 act play on stage in its Midwest Premiere at Lookingglass Theatre (the perfect company to take on a challenge such as this).
When we walk into the theater, which as always appears to look different from the last production, we are greeted by a house, or perhaps a cabin that is probably along the wooded waters of the country ( Brian Sidney Bembridge, who also designed the lighting). The cast comes out to tell us a bit about what we are about to witness, advising us that we are going to be led into the darkness of each character’s mind and possibly soul along the way as the four acts unfurl. They are probably more like scenes as the first two and the last two are where the intermission is placed. Directed by Andrew White, it is clear that he is very familiar with the original play and can see just where Posner is heading.
I must confess here that I was concerned about my wife, Jane, as Chekhov is not someone she is truly into and his works would be plays she has not read or seen. The first section of the play had her a bit confused, but she listened very closely and watched the action and inter-action between the powerful cast of actors, again, who were truly involved in their characters, and by the end of the play was telling others how she “loved the production”. To me, this is the greatest compliment to a theater company ever!
This group of characters are old friends and relatives, Uncle Vanya (Eddie Jemison is superb in his creation of this nerdy gentlemen that would never hurt a fly and is only seeking love and approval); his niece Sonia (Deftly handled by Danielle Zuckerman ) feels that she does not fit in with those who she lives with, and her family. She does have a secret love, which comes out in the story, an older man, who is a dear friend of the family,Dr. Aster ( marvelously played by Philip R. Smith), who as it turns out is the desire of other characters as well.
Sonia’s father, the Professor (solid work by Jim Ortlieb) and his third wife, Ella (divinely handled by the very sexy Chaon Cross) are in fact the focal points of many a discussion- about life and about love, or perhaps only sex. Good friend and neighbor, Babs (played to perfection by the always wonderful Barbara E. Robertson) is a very involved characters having almost raised Sonia.The final character is Pickles (Penelope Walker is just plain adorable in this role) the outsider who has lived upstairs for some time. She is the very modern character expressing her sexuality but allowing for other interests as well. A true “artist”!
These are the players! They are friends! They are lovers! They are ex-lovers! They are estranged relatives! They are enemies! They are all people who feel that “Life Sucks”! Or does it? Be prepared for this one. Know a bit about “Uncle Vanya” as there are times that the actors speak directly to the audience. On opening night, Michale Kaye, who is a regular at Chicago openings became a part of the show, almost more than he wanted. But he had a ball, and I think he was in the foyer signing autographs after the performance. This is a “thought piece” that truly will make you think, and ends with some truly masterful thoughts! There is a great deal of humor in this production, and yet, Posner wants us to take a closer look at who we are as Chekhov did- to not only look at ourselves, but feel comfortable laughing at ourselves and the things we do in our lives. If we do this, we will have a lighter load to carry and enjoy our lives even more. Life is a gift and each day is and should be special. It can only be so, if we trust our minds and hearts to guide us in the right direction.
“Life Sucks” will continue at Lookingglass Theatre Company, located at 821 N. Michigan Avenue (in the Waterworks building) at Pearson, through November 6th. (I am sure they will try to extend this one to meet the demands of the Chicago patrons of theater) . Performances are as follows:
Thursdays 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 6 p.m.
Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 312-337-0665 or online at www.lookingglasstheatre.org
There are special performances for special needs:
http://www.lookingglasstheatre.org/accesswill get you all of the details on open captioning, touch/tour/audio description and after show panel discussions
On Thursday, October 13th, join members of the Junior Board at a pre-show reception at Connie’s Pizza at 1030 N. State and a night at the theatre www/lookningglasstheatre.org/under35
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Life Sucks”