As depressing as the title might seem, “Life Sucks” is a funny, creative look at how humans deal—or don’t—with the most basic insecurities and existence itself.
“Life Sucks” is playwright Aaron Posner’s update to Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” Instead of a 19th-century Russian estate, this seven-person cast gathers in what looks like a modern-day lake house. The cast tussles with the challenges of longing, loss, love, and life in general through two acts. The audience tussles as well not only because they’re observing but because they take part in the play too.
The characters are very self-aware that they are in a play, and there is no fourth wall, which gives it that creative aspect that accompanies most plays at the Lookingglass Theatre Company. The lack of boundary between the audience and the characters is fun on the surface. Be prepared to learn a lot about your date when Ella, expertly played by Chaon Cross, asks the audience for a show of hands of who would like to make love to her. It’ll bring surprise and laughter. However when Vanya, played by Eddie Jemison, sits on the boat and laments the consequences of his actions and the pain he feels in his heart, during any other play you know he’s only talking to the cast but during this one the audience feels Vanya is talking to them too.
While Jemison and Cross do an excellent job along with Jim Ortlieb, who plays the pompous professor, Barbara E. Robertson, as the bohemian Babs, Philip R. Smith, who plays the distraught doctor, and Penelope Walker, as the peculiar Pickles, the heart and soul of the play lives in Sonia, played by Danielle Zuckerman. The laughs come easy when you watch every other character because their doubts and insecurities are on their sleeves—except for Babs who couldn’t be any cooler. Sonia is different. Zuckerman does such an amazing job playing Sonia that I don’t know if I would be able to not see Sonia if I saw Zuckerman on the street. From the beginning of the play Sonia does her best to put a smile on and ride the waves of tension that are created whenever a group of family and close friends get together. It’s when she’s alone and talking to the audience and reveals her insecurities about her appearance and her longing for the doctor that you truly feel her pain. Her issues are nothing out of the ordinary and you don’t relate to them more because Sonia is sweet. Your heart aches for her because the audience is Sonia. We all live our lives putting a smile on and pushing through the unbearable gravity of life without telling many people what we deal with, even if most know it already. What “Life Sucks” helps with is realizing you’re not the only one and how to take life on after that realization.
“Life Sucks” runs until Nov. 6 at the Lookingglass Theatre Company, 821 N. Michigan Ave. For more information visit lookingglasstheatre.org/event_page/life-sucks.