Chekhov Classic Meets Contemporary Comedy
August 18, 2023 – Live Arts launches its 2023/24 Expectations Season this fall with two plays in alternating performances: Anton Chekhov’s touching classic UNCLE VANYA paired with a contemporary comic riff, LIFE SUCKS. by Aaron Posner. UNCLE VANYA, in a translation by Richard Nelson, Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky, is directed by Artistic Director Susan E. Evans and sponsored by George Worthington and Cameron Mowat. LIFE SUCKS. is directed by Fran Smith, a Live Arts founder, and sponsored by Barbara and Jay Kessler. UNCLE VANYA and LIFE SUCKS. have 11 performances each in the Founders Theater, performing in rotating repertory September 29 through October 29, 2023, at Live Arts Theater, 123 E. Water Street, in Charlottesville.
Live Arts hosts three special events for each show: Free preview performances are presented Wednesday, September 27 (UNCLE VANYA) and Thursday, September 28 at 7:30pm (LIFE SUCKS.); Opening night receptions follow the performances Friday, September 29 (UNCLE VANYA) and Saturday, September 30 (LIFE SUCKS.); and post-show audience talkbacks are hosted Thursday, October 12 (LIFE SUCKS.) and Thursday, October 19 (UNCLE VANYA). Pay-What-You-Can performances sponsored by Ting Charlottesville are offered October 4, 11, 18, and 25. Audiences are welcome to enjoy the bar and concessions before the show and during intermission at the Third Floor Becker Bar at Live Arts.
Tickets to both shows are included in Live Arts season ticket packages, starting at just $90 for all six 2023/24 productions. Single tickets for UNCLE VANYA and LIFE SUCKS. are $27 for adults (or $24 for students and senior citizens) available through the Box Office at livearts.org/tix or by phone at 434-977-4177 x123.
About the Shows
“Audience members may have certain preconceived notions when attending a Chekhov play,” says Artistic Director Susan E. Evans. “By presenting this classic piece alongside Aaron Posner’s playful tribute, we’re hoping to turn those expectations on their head. Posner pumps up the humor, with a contemporary twist. And I think that may make the original play more accessible and relatable.”
In Anton Chekhov’s 1897 masterpiece UNCLE VANYA, a pretentious professor and his much younger new wife—bewitching, beautiful and oh, so restless—return to his country estate, where tensions escalate to the tipping point. The professor’s brother-in-law (the eponymous Ványa) and his long-suffering niece have been keeping the estate afloat for 25 years, but the professor has plans. Throw a few more intensely volatile and fascinating houseguests into the mix, creating a veritable stew of hidden frustrations and passions, and the tedium of their provincial life is upended.
LIFE SUCKS. is “sort of adapted from UNCLE VANYA,” playwright Aaron Posner says. His contemporary riff is delightfully comic while remaining faithful in its essence to Chekhov’s classic. Seven disgruntled old friends, ex-lovers, estranged in-laws, and lifelong enemies gather and grumble, tangle, carouse, yearn for love, and generally contemplate the meaning of it all. The Chicago Sun-Times called LIFE SUCKS. “altogether wise, profoundly humane, hilarious, quirky, endearing and, in countless clever ways, brilliantly faithful to its source.”
Live Arts’ UNCLE VANYA showcases 10 versatile local performers: Clinton Johnston as Serebryakóv, Haydn Haring as Eléna, Christiana Mitchell as Sónya, Kat Maybury as Márya, Nick Hagy as Ványa, Austin Bouchard as Ástrov, James Scales as Telégin, Jane McDonald as Marína, Michael Swanberg as the workman, and Jacob Walton as Efim, the watchman. LIFE SUCKS. features more local talent: Eamon Hyland as Vanya; Lyra McKee as Sonia; Elizabeth Rose as Ella; Mimi Halpern as Babs; Sean Michael McCord as the Professor; Daniel Atwood as Dr. Aster; and Sophie Clayton as Pickles.
Alongside directors Evans and Smith, the dynamic creative team behind these two plays includes Tim White (assistant director, LIFE SUCKS.); Morgan Hall and Jim Horstkotte (production stage managers); Tom Bloom (scenic design); Chase Carson (lighting design); Becky Brown (sound design); Amy Goffman (costume design); Mimi Halpern (costume design assistant); and Maggie Rogers (properties design).
First published in 1897, UNCLE VANYA was performed in the provinces and later premiered in Moscow in 1899 at the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT). Konstantin Stanislavski played the role of Astrov while Olga Knipper (Chekhov’s future wife) played Elena. The MAT brought UNCLE VANYA to New York City in November of 1923. Since its debut, UNCLE VANYA has been produced around the world, with translations and adaptations by Annie Baker, Conor McPherson, David Hare, Paul Schmidt, Emily Mann, Michael Frayn, and Curt Columbus, among many others.
LIFE SUCKS. (sort of adapted from UNCLE VANYA) was first produced by Theater J in Washington, DC in 2015. The play enjoyed its Midwest premiere the following year at Lookingglass Theatre Company. Wheelhouse Theater Company produced the NY premiere at the Wild Project in April 2019.
About The Playwrights
Anton Chekhov was a Russian playwright and short story writer who is considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time. In addition to UNCLE VANYA, his classic plays include The Seagull, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard.
UNCLE VANYA translator Richard Nelson‘s many plays include Rodney’s Wife, Goodnight Children Everywhere, Drama Desk-nominated Franny’s Way and Some Americans Abroad, Tony Award-nominated Two Shakespearean Actors and James Joyce’s The Dead (with Shaun Davey), for which he won a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, and the critically acclaimed, topical play cycle, The Apple Family Plays. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have produced acclaimed translations of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov, and Mikhail Bulgakov. Their translations of The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina won the 1991 and 2002 PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prizes.
Aaron Posner is an award-winning director, playwright, teacher, and former artistic director of Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre and New Jersey’s Two River Theatre. He has directed more than 150 productions at major regional theaters across the country including the DC area. As a playwright, his re-imagining of Chekhov’s The Seagull, entitled Stupid F**king Bird, was one of the 10 most produced plays in the country in 2015 and has had more than 150 productions worldwide. Other plays include The Heal, JQA, No Sisters, District Merchants, Who Am I This Time? & Other Conundrums of Love, The Chosen, My Name Is Asher Lev, The Gift of Nothing, Me…Jane: The Dreams & Adventures of Young Jane Goodall, and many more.
About the Directors
Susan E. Evans (director, UNCLE VANYA) joined Live Arts’ staff as Artistic Director in June 2021. For Live Arts she has directed ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST and LOVE AND INFORMATION. She held several positions in the San Francisco Bay Area, as artistic director at Eastenders Repertory Company, at the Douglas Morrisson Theatre, and at Town Hall Theatre. Other Bay Area directing credits include Contra Costa Civic Theatre; Actors Reading Writers; and collaborations with solo artist Carolyn Doyle and playwright Scott Munson. She is a proud graduate of the Drama Studio London @ Berkeley and associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. www.susaneevansdirector.com
Fran Smith (director, LIFE SUCKS.) has directed or performed in Virginia for more than 45 years. She is a Live Arts co-founder and has directed over 60 shows at Live Arts since its inception in 1990. Her most recent Live Arts production was THE HUMANS by Stephen Karam, which closed in February 2020. She is very excited to be directing again and working with the remarkable cast and crew of LIFE SUCKS.
About Live Arts
Live Arts is a volunteer-powered, nonprofit community theater in Downtown Charlottesville. Founded in 1990, Live Arts is celebrating more than 33 years of forging theater and community. The 2023/23 Expectations Season is made possible by Elizabeth LeVaca remembering Joe LeVaca, C-VILLE Weekly, WTJU 91.1FM, Ting, and PJ Networks Computer Services. Shows are sponsored by The Caplin Foundation, Barbara and Jay Kessler, The Madwoman Project at CACF, Story House Real Estate, Woodard Properties, and George Worthington and Cameron Mowat, and supported by philanthropic gifts by hundreds of theater lovers in the Charlottesville community.
Live Arts is supported by the Virginia Commission for the Arts, which receives support from the Virginia General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency; the City of Charlottesville; and Albemarle County.