Following up on Gamm Theatre’s stunning presentation of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” Cranston’s Epic Theatre has turned to an updated parody by Aaron Posner, titled “Life Sucks.”
Set in a more modern time and performed without sets in Studio 82’s Black Box Theatre, the seven actors sit among the audience members, occasionally talking directly to them and asking questions that demand answers.
Posner’s dialogue is nothing like the stilted exposition of Chekhov, with modern references and prolific profanity, taking the Russian author’s thoughts and concerns and adapting them to the 21st century. The ensemble cast, under the direction of Christopher Plonka, works well together, with every member having his or her moment on stage.
At the center is Uncle Vanya (Justin Pimentel), sad, despondent and madly in love with a married woman and convinced that life truly sucks. Love, longing and loss form the major theme of the cleverly written play, as explained in a prologue that sets the tone for the two-hour, four-act play.
“Life is like a treadmill,” one actor states. “You run and get nowhere.”
We slowly learn of the relationships among the characters, the unrequited loves and the bitter resentments that cause serious relationship problems. We feel for Sonia (Anastasia LaFrance), who pines for the doctor (Johnny Cicco) who has no interest in her. But he, and everyone else, lusts for the professor’s (Geoff White) attractive wife, Ella (Hannah Lum), who verbally and physically brings out the worst in them.
Laura Ash Benjamin makes for a silly yet sad Pickles, the conflicted character who can’t accept that life does suck. Babs (Paula Faber) is the catalyst in the group, lending her shoulder to anyone who wishes to be listened to. Faber also appeared in Gamm’s “Uncle Vanya” and adapted perfectly to a different interpretation of her role.
The self-indulgent wallowing leads to a conclusion that causes everyone to think about their own lives and dreams.
In a tense closing scene each one poses the same question to Vanya: “Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?” while at the same time confronting their own self-images.
If you are familiar with “Uncle Vanya,” you will enjoy the comparisons. If not, the author is clever enough to present her slightly skewed adaptation that results in the characters accepting the fact that life does, indeed, suck at times. But not always.
At Artists’ Exchange, 82 Rolfe St., Providence, through May 12. Tickets are $20, $5 for seniors. For reservations email firstname.lastname@example.org.