Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Life Sucks
The Custom Made Theatre Co.
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of Significant Other, Weightless, The Good Book, Jazz and 110 in the Shade and Jeanie's review of This Random World


Emily Stone and Evan Sokol
Photo by Jay Yamada
Well, we can't say we weren't warned. First, there's the title: Life Sucks. And at the top of Aaron Posner's play, currently running at The Custom Made Theatre Co., the cast step downstage and speak directly to the audience, reminding us that they are the cast and we are the audience (though that imaginary border will be crossed many, many times over the course of the evening), and that they are about to present a play that is about love, longing, loss, and "how irretrievably fucked-up the world is." "Sort-of" adapted from Chekov's Uncle Vanya, Life Sucks explores the messiness that happens when life disappoints us, the sadness of not getting what we want (and sometimes of getting it), and the ever-confusing, confounding process of attempting to connect with our fellow humans in an honest, open way.

Despite this heads-up, it's not all depression and kvetching—though there is plenty of the latter, especially from Vanya (Evan Sokol), who mopes around the country house (set by Daniel Bilodeau) with an oddly subterranean feel), complaining about everyone and everything. The Professor (Dave Sikula) is overly intellectual, flinging ten-dollar words like "lacuna" around with impunity and generally ignoring anyone else's humanity. Ella (Emily Stone), the Professor's third wife, is the object of more than one character's lust—including Vanya, but most especially the tippling doctor Aster (Gabriel Montoya), who floats through scenes dripping with unfulfilled longing. Babs (Linda Ayres-Frederick) is a ceramic artist and earth mother whose wisdom is lost on Vanya, and Pickles (Brittany Nicole Sims) is a hanger-on who functions almost as a clown with her random outbursts of off-kilter humor. Only Sonia (Jensen Power) seems to escape Vanya's critical eye, but she has her own issues to deal with, being hopelessly in love with Aster.

Over the course of two hours these players will drift through each other's fears and desires, avoiding (and confronting) the bitterness of their lives—and regularly turning to us in the audience to validate their neuroses. The audience on opening night was happy to comply, with many voicing aloud their own fears and disappointments in response to direct questions from the cast.

During the first half of the show, I felt the cast was horribly unbalanced, seeming out of sync both with each other and the material. I appreciated Evan Sokol's wide-eyed demeanor, as though he was shocked by everything but surprised by nothing, and Linda Ayres-Frederick's subdued observer status, but everyone seemed to be declaiming their lines rather than inhabiting real characters and making them come alive for us. (Part of this might be due to the breaking of the fourth wall, which the script requires throughout the show.) But after intermission they all seemed to relax into their roles, to stop acting and start simply being.

Posner's play is, like the Chekov work upon which it is loosely based, both tragic and funny in subtle and sardonic ways. Looking at my notes, I see that almost every line I wrote down has a sharp, icy edge to it:

"What is it about me that you all find so fucking irresistible?"
"A chilly, lonely breakfast might be the worst first world problem ever."
"I fantasize about a life before we knew how to fantasize."
"Scrape what's left of my heart with a grapefruit spoon."

Ultimately, though, Posner finds a dim light at the end of the tunnel, telling us—through the words of the Professor—that it's time to "buck the fuck up" and get on with our lives. Because even if life does sometimes suck, there's a lot to love about it ("bad ice cream," "old, empty great and sacred places," "a cool pillow on a hot, hot night," "Nina Simone") and it's the only one we're going to get.

Life Sucks, through June 1, 2019, at The Custom Made Theatre Co., 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco CA. Shows are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00pm, with matinees Saturdays at 2:00pm (except on May 11). Tickets range from $20-$45, and are available at www.custommade.org.


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