Reviewed Performance 10/14/2017
Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Anton Chekov is quoted as having said, “Any fool can weather a crisis. It’s day to day living that wears us down.” Enter the characters of LIFE SUCKS. Day to day living has worn all of them down and now they find themselves at critical junctures in their lives. Sonia is young and full of the longing and angst of the young, while her father, the Professor, finds himself feeling the approach of age in his looks and the lamentations of his body. The others characters find themselves in the unfamiliar territory of middle age: muscles are sagging a little, gray hairs are beginning to appear, and their lives are not at the point they had anticipated and worked for all the previous years. Sonia reminds them of the ideals and plans of their youth, while her father makes their destination only too plain. Where they are headed has smacked them in the face. And they raise the “Life Sucks” flag from time to time as they face these realizations.
Posner labels the play as being “sort of adapted from Chekhov’s UNCLE VANYA. And it is, perhaps, more than just “sort of.” The characters are all here. More modern day, certainly, but the theme of “love and longing” remains as we watch the lengths to which we humans will go and the hoops we will jump through to find love and to get what we want and what we think we need: that which wears us down with its elusiveness while we overlook or even ignore the more simple ability to enjoy what we have.
This production by the Stage West Theatre in Ft. Worth is a most enjoyable, funny, pathetic, sometimes even a bit sad look at we humans at our worst and sometimes our best. The nonchalant beginning of the show, becomes the easy, flowing underpinning of the characters and their interactions. The set is breathtaking. A beach house and outbuildings, complete with walkways, a bridge, hammock, boat, bicycle and real dirt. And, of course, the swing, which is used in so many tell-tale ways to suggest carefree, happy, bored, restless—you name it! The actors relate to the audience in a most real, unprepossessing way, requiring I’m sure, some spur of the moment responses they all seem easily capable of. This is a cast of quite fine actors who live the roles they carry and provoke laughter and sighs of understanding from their audience. The lighting and music also add just the subtle, easy, lovely touch to the atmosphere in which the characters come to life.
Jakie Cabe is the Doctor, caught up in his work but not really enjoying it, lusting after the luscious Ella, ignorant of the love of the innocent young Sonia but still a caring friend of Vanya, Sonia’s uncle. Cabe is both funny and pathetic, bored and energetic. He brings to life the middle age man who isn’t where he wants to be in life but isn’t sure where that would be.
Michael Corolla, on the other hand, takes on the character of the Professor, who distracts with his ubiquitous wordiness and erudite lectures so as not to let others become aware of the fear inside him that age has ignited. If he only had a top hat, he would remind one of the Monopoly man. And when the time comes for the Professor to let his guard down, Corolla capably reveals the softer underbelly of the man who seems such a pompous ass most of the time.
Vanya’s young niece and the Professor’s daughter by his now deceased first wife is portrayed by Kally Duncan. She is quite believable as the young woman who longs to profess her love for the Doctor, who she has adored for a long time, but he sees her only as a child and treats her as such, much to her chagrin. I thought her delightful about my one complaint was she was difficult to hear oftentimes, frequently dropping the ends of her lines.
As the gorgeous Ella, second wife of the Professor, Sherry Hopkins is, well, gorgeous. Her appearance at the play’s beginning in a figure hugging dress certainly explains the lustful cravings of the Doctor, the love of Vanya and the entitlement of the Professor. But though Hopkins is definitely a “pretty thing”, she is much more as she sincerely attempts to settle the differences between her and Sonia and her eventual entanglements with Vanya and the Doctor.
Babs is the sister of Vanya and the mother of Sonia’s dead mother and is played by Cindee Mayfield. She is beautifully quiet spoken, almost a one person “chorus” who comments on the other characters, frequently explaining or questioning them. But there is always a twinkle in her eye and her voice and we see it and hear it in the audience.
Mark Shum is Vanya. He is the middle age man trying to fit into middle age. Shum expertly comes “unraveled” as the play progresses but you always like him, even when he tries murder and then suicide and succeeds at neither. He brings us to his side when he tells the Professor “NO” to his plan to sell the property to fatten his wallet.
And Sherry Jo Ward is Pickles, the odd misfit who lives behind Bab’s studio and knits sock puppets and covers for the pier posts. Ward’s “where do you put love when that person doesn’t love you any more” is beautiful. She puts the “love and longing” into words in such a wistful way.
All in all, this is a brilliant ensemble cast bringing to life a thoroughly enjoyable script. It is fun, thought provoking and lovely to look at. And NOT to be missed. Bravo, Stage West!