Life Definitely Does not Suck

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

It is hard to deny the mastery of Anton Chekhov. His skill for writing rich profound characters is unquestionable. But what many people often forget is that his writing is meant to be seen as comical. I often debate this assertion because his characters are so serious. Then, I remember it is the severity of his characters predilections that make them funny. To everyone’s delight Aaron Posner manages to capture this Chekhovian quality that make his adaptation of Uncle Vanya, entitled Life Sucks, hysterical. To his credit, Posner does not simply make you laugh but manages to make you cry, sometimes at the same time.

Conforming to Checkhovian standards, Posners’ characters are all pining away for someone or something. For starters, the elder Professor brings home his much younger wife Ella who is the subject of everyone’s attention. Her beauty is at the center of the minds, hearts and genitals of all those she comes into contact with, including the virile Dr. Aster, Vanya, and Pickles. Sonia, the Professor’s daughter, is insanely jealous of Ella because Sonia is in love with Dr. Aster. And here we go, the insipid love/lust relationships that we have come to expect from Chekhov start and no one is left unaffected in its tornado like path.

Not only is Posner’s writing sharp, witty, and sardonic, but the performances are nuanced with such professional depth that we are engaged from the very first line to the last. At times, we are in a Brechtian atmosphere, being made publicly aware that we are watching a play, while at other moments the angst of each character is so palpable that we feel as if we are watching modern realism. The cast deserves most of the credit, although Jeff Wises’ direction is praiseworthy, for maneuvering us effortlessly between moments. Michael Schantz plays Dr. Aster alongside Nadia Bowers as Ella. Their fiery chemistry is so palpable that when they finally kiss, the explosion on stage is cataclysmic! And then the heart-wrenching performances delivered by Jeff Biehl as Vanya and Kimberly Chatterjee as Sonia, create an overall balance on stage pitched to perfection. Like the traditional Vanya, Biehl’s deep-seeded need to be loved is something that we can all relate to. His vulnerability on stage is as compelling as it is commendable to watch. There were several moments when Biehl and Chatterjee unveil their innermost desires, which could have easily turned into overindulgent acting, something I loathe on stage. Thankfully the actors are fine tuned enough to let these moments breathe without forcing them or making them predicated on something. They just happen and as simple as that, it hits us with unmistakable potency that is spellbinding to experience. It makes these soul-filled revelations, that feel almost confessional, much more profound because these actors are genuinely living through it.

Like a gourmet dish, this production’s recipe is masterful. It is definitely one of the finest pieces of theater that I have seen in a while (along with The Maids by the Seeing Place Theater). The lighter moments are just as poignant as the more serious ones. Everything comes together perfectly in this wonderful production. If you want quality theater that won’t break your budget, these shows are highly recommended.

Life Sucks plays now through April 20, 2019 at 195 E. 3rd St. http://www.wheelhousetheater.org.

Let’s Talk About a Different Kind of Acting: The Maids at The Seeing Place Theater

By Nicholas Linnehan

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After being a critic for 12 years now, I have seen a lot of theater, both good and bad. However, I also am an actor with Cerebral Palsy. This causes me to push through my physical limitations and attempt to deliver a good performance when I’m on stage. Now, of course, what is considered “good” is entirely subjective. But I fight for every moment I act. I just finished a three week run of a play called Identity, where I went beyond what I thought was physically possible for myself. I started to uncover a new aspect of my acting that surprised me and seemed to enhance the quality of my work on stage.
Rarely have I seen another actor with such physical issues similar to mine.

Then I saw The Maids brought to us by The Seeing Place Theater. Enter Erin Cronican, one of the most talented actors I know. Sadly, she is battling severe cancer, stage four Breast Cancer. However, she does not stop this from delivering a riveting performance. Now, most actors I know, would have let their disease take over and refuse to attempt performing an 80 minute play, which has heavy line requirements. Does this stop her, no! Her tenacity is awe-inspiring. But this is not an article about her pushing through cancer and applauding her for it. (Although, I do) And it’s not about sympathy for her or me, it’s about acting.

After watching her performance and witnessing her physically fight for every line she says and earn every moment she delivers, it dawned on me that all acting should be rooted in this high-stakes praxis that seems to derive when our bodies are impaired in some fashion. All too often actors miss opportunities to have authentic moments on stage because they just say the lines and sometimes gloss over their chances to have genuine moments on stage.

This brings me to my point of this article, actors should have to fight for every line, every word they utter on stage, like Cronican and I are forced to do. When you have to dig deep, going beyond your bodies comfort zone, something magical happens. I am not saying that our predicaments make us the best actors out there, but it does add a tangible element to our work that is different from what I commonly see in most acting. This revelation only came to me after seeing Cronican’s last two productions and then reflecting on my own experience after my production.

I do not think you have to have cancer or Cerebral Palsy to experience this in your performances. But, I do think it’s worth noting that when and if you make yourself fight for each and every moment on stage and have some physical awareness you will add a layer to your work that is beautiful, riveting, and organic. I urge you to see Cronican in The Maids which plays now through April 14, 2019 and allow yourself to see first hand how profound she is because of what she allows herself to experience and share with the audience.

The Maids plays now through April 14, 2019 at 65 E 4th St. www.theseeingplace.com

Shakespeare Done Write

 

Rusty Flounders, Candice Oden, William Ketter, Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia

(Actors, Left to Right): Rusty Flounders, Candice Oden, William Ketter, Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia. PHOTO BY RUSS ROWLAND

Reviewed by Gregor Collins

As an armchair Shakespearean, I find many productions predictably esoteric, made heavier by actors taking themselves too seriously getting bogged down on the aesthetics of the line instead of the emotion behind it. A worthy antidote is The Seeing Place’s rendition of The Bard’s Measure for Measure—though an intermittently choppy journey, a final destination whose modernized performances and dauntless direction seamlessly transmute 1603 into 2019.

I approach every play I see with an impartial mind, but I can’t help sitting there waiting for a show to begin, feeling how the set sits in silence, or how dusty the smell of creativity is. Which is why I enjoy the Seeing Place: There’s that dusty smell of creativity. And whether I end up liking the show or not, I know I’ll be party to something bold; something that paints outside the lines. With 75% of the shows I see ostensibly satisfied staying within the lines, I highly recommend looking more deeply into The Seeing Place and what two of the hardest working theater-makers in New York, Artistic Directors Erin Cronican and Brandon Walker, are all about.

Measure for Measure involves a young novice nun who is compromised by a corrupt official who offers to save her brother from execution in return for sex. It worked for the Weinstein Company, which is why, according to Cronican, M4M is more relevant than ever:

“Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure in the early 1600s, yet it remains astonishingly resonant today,” says Cronican, who also acts in and directs about half the shows at Seeing Place. “It sheds light on the abuses of power over women who can’t have their voices heard.”

As the play begins, the duke of Vienna puts his deputy Angelo in charge of the state. Angelo immediately enforces a law outlawing sex outside of marriage and sentences Claudio to death for sleeping with Juliet, Claudio’s fiancée. Claudio’s sister Isabella, a novice nun, appeals to Angelo to save her brother. But the supposedly pure Angelo demands that Isabella sleep with him to save Claudio. Isabella vehemently refuses. The Duke, who has remained in Vienna disguised as a friar, suggests to Claudio that Angelo’s jilted fiancée, Mariana, could take Isabella’s place—he proposes a win-win-win plan: Isabella wouldn’t have to have sex and therefore be guilt-free, Mariana would have the sex and do a good deed, and Claudio would get to have sex as a free man.

What happened, you ask? You have exactly seven more days to find out. Chop-chop.

Director Brandon Walker had fun with the set and the blocking, at impromptu moments breaking the fourth wall by doing things like pulling out his smart phone to snap photos of the onstage action, or by suddenly deciding to hammer home an impassioned point directly into the eyes of a random audience member. It all worked to give the show a more modern salience, and keep our eyes glued to the unfolding drama. Lighting Designer Eve Bandi should also be commended for aptly keeping up with Walker’s frenzied footing.

Rarely do I see a show where there’s not one weak actor: Rusty Flounders and Candice Oden bring a filmic realism to Lucio and Mariana; Robin Friend’s “American” Claudio eases into Pompey’s Eastern-European accent as smoothly as the sun slipping under the skyline; William Ketter, a newcomer on the New York acting scene, is slight in frame and genial in face, yet as Angelo delivers the demonstrative performance of an actor twice his size; with the face of an angel, Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia waxes convincing grittiness of a woman scorned; and brown-robe-clad Brandon Walker floats around the wings like Yoda in his UPS uniform, sprinkling quirky frivolity wherever most needed.

And in my favorite performance of the evening, Jared Mason Murray, who won the right to have his own paragraph, gives a scenes-stealing turn as Escalus, exhibiting every ounce of the jocularity and charisma of a lawyer on a David E. Kelley series. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time Trump gets reelected he’ll be a series regular on Bull.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE plays March 28-April 14, 2019 GENERAL ADMISSION – $20 (Premium tickets $30) http://www.TheSeeingPlace.com The Seeing Place @ the Paradise Factory 64 East 4th Street, NYC

Tix: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34676