Be prepared to be put a little bit on the spot if you attend Mad Horse Theatre’s latest production. Cast members, constantly questioning themselves, will occasionally turn and ask you something. And it may not be the sort of question you are prepared to answer. But it’s all in the service of a thoroughly entertaining “sort of” adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s classic “Uncle Vanya.”

Aaron Posner’s “Life Sucks.” (the period is part of the title) gathers the original play’s characters for another go-around in their quest for love and fulfillment. There are some contemporary touches and f-bomb loaded commentary added. But the essential story remains the same.

A gathering of family and friends is occasioned by the arrival of an aging professor and his much younger wife, Ella. They are greeted by Vanya, brother of the professor’s late first wife, who has eyes for Ella. Present is a local doctor, who also covets the young woman, and Sonia, the professor’s daughter from that earlier marriage who is after the doctor. Friends Babs and Pickles, who have their longings, round out the group.

Phoebe Parker, Joe Quinn, Emily Grotz, Deborah Paley, Janice Gardner and Paul Haley in Mad Horse’s “Life Sucks.” Photos by Craig Robinson

The two-hour play’s mixture of comedy with pathos carries it along nicely with an important assist from a Mad Horse cast made up of local theater veterans and a couple of newer faces. Joe Quinn (Vanya), Emily Grotz (Sonia), Phoebe Parker (Ella), Deborah Paley (Babs), David Butler (The Professor), Paul Haley (Dr. Aster), and Janice Gardner (Pickles) each have moments to shine as their characters relate their frustrations, disappointments and desires to each other and the audience, who are seated in-the-round.

The “kvetching” can approach farcical levels but these folks’ heartfelt dilemmas come through under Nick Schroeder’s sympathetic direction.

At the performance under review, the contributions of Haley and Grotz were particularly striking, the former’s comedic moments were hilarious and the latter’s lines about the codes underlying human interactions were movingly delivered. Butler also reveals how even pomposity has a human side, while Parker seeks a pure friendship. Paley subtly shows perseverance while Gardner clowns her way into true passion. It was finely prepared and well-executed acting all around. Of course, Chekhov and Posner deserve a little credit but as fine a cast as this is essential to bring it home.

Life may or may not suck, depending on one’s outlook. But this insightful and entertaining play suggests great theater endures.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.