'Life Sucks' Delivers Laughs and Profound Questions at Dobama Theatre

click to enlarge Life, loss and laughs at Dobama - Steve Wagner Photography
Steve Wagner Photography
Life, loss and laughs at Dobama

When playwright Aaron Posner was born, chances are he looked around and said, "You're kidding, right?" This renowned playwright (he's also a much-lauded director) displays a cheerful disregard for what people expect of theater, which results in an engaging, frequently hilarious product. An example of that is now on view at Dobama Theatre with their production of "Life Sucks."

This loose adaptation of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" follows the theater's recent production of "Stupid Fucking Bird," Posner's take on "The Seagull." This is a playwright who relishes the opportunity to wrench such honored classics into contemporary form, but without ever losing some real and poignant moments touching on the tortures of love, the loss represented by lives frittered away and yes, even the big one, the meaning of life itself.

Happily, this performance directed by Nathan Motta takes splendid advantage of the witty script, turning the show into the most enjoyable two hours you've spent since you sucked down a CBD gummy and listened to a Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner comedy routine.

It all takes place on a lush set that would be appropriate for a classic staging of "Uncle Vanya," but "Life Sucks" quickly forges its own path as the cast immediately shreds the fourth wall and chats with the audience. That familiarity peaks later when a character asks whether anyone in the audience would be willing to have a roll in the hay with her. Then she counts the hands that are willing.

This impish tone could quickly get silly in less sure hands, but Motta knows what to do with Posner's rich material, and they join forces to weave the seven characters and their stories into a seamless and hilarious theatrical feast.

The central role of Vanya is played by Christopher Bohan with a perfect pitch of erudition and irritation as he dominates the gathered guests at his villa with his casual put-downs and edgy vibe. His main opponent is a self-absorbed semiotician nicknamed "The Professor" (a dry and droll Steve Marvel), who is tangled up in his own profundity and has a hard time with getting older. As he notes, "I look like Carrot Top's badly-aging older brother."

The Prof is married to the elegant and much younger Ella (the redoubtable Nicole Sumlin), whom everyone seems to lust after, including cheerfully daft Pickles (Chennelle Bryant-Harris), woozily horny Dr. Aster (Andrew Gorell) and of course Vanya himself. Meanwhile the young Sonia (Jourdan Lewanda) is bedeviled by her ordinary looks ("People think if you look like me you have to settle for all the Steve Buscemi's of the world."), Still, she is hot for Aster, but frustrated that his horniness isn't directed at her, not to mention the fact that an older member of their coterie, Babs (Anne McEvoy), admits a long-ago tryst (or was it a fantasy?) involving Aster and a warm Bundt cake.

The handsome production features a set design by Brian Seckfort, scenic and projection design by T. Paul Lowry, and costumes by Tesia Dugan Benson. Laughs come fast and furious in this play, but it avoids the "rack and ruin" destiny of the original work thanks to the innocence and honest yearning of Sonia, who believes in the possibilities of love and a life that doesn't suck, at least all the time. In the end, there are surprises, a reckoning, and a profound question for the audience. So prepare to laugh...and think.

Life Sucks
Through May 22 at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-932-3396, dobama.org.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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