Theater

A warmhearted Chekhov

Taos Onstage hits the boards with inspired adaptation called 'Life Sucks'

By Laura Bulkin
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 10/16/19

Taos Onstage kicks off its seventh fall theater season this week with Aaron Posner's "Life Sucks." The playwright has subtitled the piece: "Sort of adapted from 'Uncle Vanya' by Anton Chekhov."

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Theater

A warmhearted Chekhov

Taos Onstage hits the boards with inspired adaptation called 'Life Sucks'

Posted

Taos Onstage kicks off its seventh fall theater season this week with Aaron Posner's "Life Sucks." The playwright has subtitled the piece: "Sort of adapted from 'Uncle Vanya' by Anton Chekhov." As in Chekhov's 1898 work, the characters here -- ex-lovers, estranged in-laws, enemies and frenemies -- are gathered in a country home that has seen better days. Posner's reenvisioning of the play brings Chekhov's tragicomic style to bear on such contemporary topics as work-life balance, the fate of the environment and why we love to hate gyms.

The show opens a two-week run today (Oct. 17) with curtain at 7:30 p.m. at the Taos Onstage Theatre, 101-A Camino de la Placita, at the corner of Paseo del Pueblo Sur in Cantú Plaza, next to the Tuesday Morning store.

Taos Onstage wants audiences to be aware that the play, while lighthearted and life-affirming overall, does contain a gunshot (from a prop pistol) and strong language that may not be suitable for children and some adults.

Actor, director and Taos Onstage Board President Charlotte Keefe is directing this production.

"The play deals with common issues that probably everyone has experienced -- love, longing, rejection, annoying family members, sadness," said Keefe. "The play also brings up the notion of the inner self -- if others only knew our inner person, we would be better respected and loved. While these are serious issues, there are a lot of laughs in the play. Even though the world in general seems really messed up, and our lives are not on the path we would like, there is hope."

Keefe said that the play also lent itself to a wish she'd had since moving into the new theater space: to direct a play "in the round."

"As it turns out, the production is technically three-quarter round," she explained. "The audience is seated on three sides of the acting area. The stage movement is totally different than with a proscenium production. It has been an interesting creative process for both me and the actors. These talented actors pulled together as an ensemble from the very beginning, and it has been a joy to work with them."

The cast includes Taos theater maestra Karen Thibodeau. "I have the privilege and challenge of playing Pickles," Thibodeau said. "Pickles is a profound lesbian who's said to be the sweetest person that ever lived, and whose lover left her 17 years ago. It's also said (in the script) that she's an acquired taste. She makes puppets. So, I was deeply touched and thought she might be me for several days, then realized how different we are, but that we're fellow artists for sure."

Kristen Woolf is known to Taos audiences for years of acting, directing and exalted singing. "'Life Sucks'? Who would use such a name! Except it turns out to be just the perfect name," Woolf said. "All the characters in this play are debating this proposition. The old and successful, the young and hopeless, the straight and the gay. The beautiful and the ugly. The cynical and the hopeful. The same inquiry we are each conducting in our own hearts. I play Babs -- Bathsheba -- an older, arty unconventional woman who, due to 'a certain quantity of unnecessarily stupid choices and thoughtless acts -- some with real consequences,' has decided to relinquish the right to judge anyone about anything. Kind of a 'mama confessor.' Who would have thought? Not that she bears any resemblance to me."

Savannah Holden described Sonia, her character in the play, as "a funny and smart young woman with terrible self-esteem and a huge crush on her uncle's best friend. As the play progresses, she faces the reality of her feelings, and finally begins to accept herself for who she is. I think a lot of people will be able to relate not only to how Sonia feels, but to different aspects of every character in the play. Since the fourth wall is often broken, audience members may feel even more connected to the characters than they have in other shows. You will laugh, you may even cry and you will definitely enjoy yourself as you go on this unique journey."

Blair Jackson plays the role of the Professor. "I was interested in trying out for this because it is a very funny and touching play," he said. "The Professor certainly is a character! While he basically is a pompous jerk, I hope to bring some humanity to the role, and show the audience his vulnerable side. I am in awe of the other actors in the production because they are so good. I've really been enjoying working with them, and I've learned a lot from performing with them. I think the audience is going to enjoy this show. It's one of the best plays I've been in. The actors are having a great time putting it on, and that's always a good sign."

The cast is rounded out by veteran local favorites Stephen Moser as Dr. Aster, Jeff Spicer as Vanya and Elena Trujillo as Ella. Sierra Lindsey-Biscello is assistant director and stage manager, with lights and sound by Hannah May Tyree.

Performances will be given today through Saturday (Oct. 17-19) and Oct. 24-26, at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. (Oct. 20 and 27). Tickets are $15. For more information and advance ticket purchase, visit taosonstage.com.

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