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Playwright Aaron Posner continues his series of Chekhov reinventions with Life Sucks.
You can play a fun drinking game figuring out how many plays by Russian master Anton Chekhov have been reimagined by contemporary dramatist Aaron Posner. From Three Sisters, he wrote No Sisters. From The Seagull, he penned Stupid Fu**ing Bird. And from Uncle Vanya, he came up with Life Sucks., currently having its New York debut courtesy of Wheelhouse Theater Company, which just transferred its lauded downtown production to Theatre Row on 42nd Street.
"I found Chekhov to be a fertile playground," says Posner, who's based in Philadelphia. "I grew up on Chekhov to a certain extent and have a vocal love for and, at times, a weariness with him. While what he was writing about was moving and human, his themes were very much the concerns of his time and Russia at that particular moment." That's why Posner decided to take Chekhov's characters and stories and translate them to the way we live now.
Adopting the blueprint of the 121-year-old Uncle Vanya, Life Sucks. spins a web of misery, egos, disillusionment and love triangles within a very dysfunctional family. Often the characters look to the audience for answers. They break the fourth wall so much it's barely there as they ask existential questions like, "What is life?" and poll theatregoers on regret while spouting angst-filled one-liners such as, "Chilly, lonely breakfasts might be the worst first-world problem ever." Posner notes that director Jeff Wise "has an ease and subtly with the theatricality. The staging is simple and open-handed in a way that I really appreciate."
While those familiar with Uncle Vanya will recognize the characters, they've all been given modern makeovers. "I imagined the people living in the world of today," Posner says. Most notable is the transformation of the landowner Waffles, now an arty lovesick lesbian who goes by Pickles (Stacey Linnartz).
Like its source material, Life Sucks. explores issues such as personal accountability and longing, particularly in Vanya (Kevin Isola), described as a "wound-tight failure" in Posner's script. "Chekhov was unquestionably dealing with core day-to-day problems of being human," Posner says. "For example -- I haven't been successful, the people who I want to love me don't love me, and I don't know if I want to love myself. How do I make it through another day? These are struggles almost everybody can relate to."
While Posner is always happy when Chekhov fans enjoy his work, he designs his plays to be understood by all theatregoers, even those who think Chekhov was some guy on Star Trek. "His works are templates," Posner says. "I wrote my plays with the intention that you don't need to know anything about Chekhov to enjoy them." And he looks as much to his own life as he does to Chekhov for inspiration. As he puts it, "I've been trying to be honest about my own faults, my own complexities, and my own journey as I witness the people around me as they are trying to live in the world as it is now."
Caroline Cao is a writer, comic writer, playwright and screenwriter. When she's not working on a script or fanfiction, she's experimenting with pasta. Follow her at @Maximinalist. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Kevin Isola, Michael Schantz and Stacey Linnartz in Life Sucks. Photo by Russ Rowland.