Dobama’s ‘Life Sucks’ is a delightful twist of an old standard

Life Sucks...or does it. An old and very wise man once said (or perhaps it was me and I have forgotten saying it) that happiness in life is a matter of perspective. An example would be the lowly earthworm who would much rather stay home on a hot afternoon and dig in the dry hard soil than go fishing. It’s all a matter of perspective.

In a unique reworking of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” playwright Aaron Posner (who gave us “Stupid F***ing Bird”) gathers a group of friends, lovers, enemies and in-laws to discuss among themselves the meaning of life and stuff like that. Add to the mix equal amounts of lust, loneliness, high ego, low esteem and a sprinkle of hope and you have two solid hours of entertaining theater.

Sonia (Jourdan Lewanda) lives in a pleasant home with her uncle Vanya (Chris Bohan), her alcoholic but wise aunt Babs (Anne McEvoy) and Pickles (Chennelle Bryant-Harris). Her neighbor Dr. Aster (Andrew Gorell) lives nearby but frequents the house on a regular if not daily basis. Appearing at their doorstep is Professor (Steve Marvel) who is Sonia’s father (her mother passed away years ago). Accompanying the Professor is his third wife Ella (Nicole Sumlin).

Sonia is madly in love with Dr. Aster but her low self esteem keeps her from doing anything about it. Dr. Aster on the other hand is madly in love with the very sexy Ella and while she tries to cool his advances ends up making out with him at the same time spurning his desires. Vanya is also very much in love with Ella but as Ella points out he has nothing to offer her which puts him into a deep depression realizing that his life has been for naught. Rounding out the Ella love fest is Pickles who steals a kiss while giving a gift of a sock puppet. Ella also wants to assume the mothering role for Sonia. As for the Professor, he is on a crash course with aging and wonders how anyone as beautiful and smart as Ella (she was one of his former students) would not only marry him but stay with him into his old age.

As these tales of love, lust and hate spell out the professor reveals his real reason for their visit. He and Ella are in financial difficulty and they want to sell the house so that they can get a fresh start. Disbelief turns to rage and then into violence as Vanya defends his home that he has put so much equity into (along with Sonya).

While the show runs two and a half hours that includes a fifteen minute intermission the time goes remarkably fast. Much of this is due to the directing by Nathan Motta who keeps a fast pace throughout the show. Each actor is given their “solo” time with the audience plus the fourth wall is breached repeatedly as the actors turn to the audience for thoughtful advice. The lighting design by Marcus Dana is superb with a light and airy feel with changes to spotlighting the various characters. Richard Ingraham’s sound design is crisp and sharp. The set design by Brian Seckfort makes you want to take up residence in the charming residence.

Jourdan Lewanda as Sonia perfectly underplays her role. You simply want to go onstage and give her a hug and tell her that everything is going to be all right. Chris Bohan as Vanya shows an entire range of emotions as he comes to grips with his self esteem problems and the threat of losing his place of residence. Chennelle Bryant-Harris sparkles as Pickles. Anne McEvoy as Babs brings her extensive experience on the stage acting as the referee in this wild family gathering. Andrew Gorell as Dr. Aster shows wit, passion, anger and compassion sometimes all at once. Steve Marvel as Professor portrays a man who hates the idea of aging and is desperate to hold onto what he has left. Nicole Sumlin as Ella is sexy smart knowing how to handle the advances from both sexes but still showing desire as well as a mothering tendency.

Without a doubt this family of misfits puts the “fun” in dysfunctional. Razor sharp writing and superb acting makes the time breeze by. This is a totally digestible Chekhov as the cast makes an effort to solve their problems with the assistance of the audience. Wise-Humane-Quirky-Endearing-Clever yet true to the spirit of the original. Chek it out.

“Life Sucks” will be on stage at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio through May 22, 2022. For more information or to purchase tickets go to or call (216) 932-3396.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.