For a Comedy, “Happy Days” Is Heavy and Dark, Heavier and Darker as the Play Progresses
For a comedy, the PlayMakers Repertory Company production of Samuel Beckett’s HAPPY DAYS is heavy and dark, actually heavier and darker as the play progresses. When the curtain rises, the irrepressibly cheerful Winnie (Julie Fishell) is chattering away, buried up to her waist in a giant dirt mound. Much of chatter relates to her troubled marriage to her increasingly absent husband Willie (Ray Dooley).
Winnie spends the first act babbling and going about the sad, dull routine of her humdrum everyday life. She combs her hair, brushes her teeth, applies lipstick, and listens to her mumbling husband read classified advertisements from the local newspaper.
The second act picks up the intensity with Winnie — who is now buried up to her neck — going slowly insane as she is swallowed by the mound. Fishell brings the troubled and often confusing character to a multilayered life, while Dooley is simply fascinating to watch. As he climbs the mound in the final scene, either reaching for Winnie or the gun resting near her head — the audience isn’t quite sure which — the wheels of his mind seem to visibly churn. The depth of the performances are due, at least in part, to guest director Rob Melrose’s admirable directing skills and strong knowledge of Beckett’s work.
The entire set is made up of the mound, realistically designed by Michael Locher. The mound is a mass of dirt, weeds, and grain, giving the entire production a believable, rustic feel. This, combined with the jarring sound of the shrill class-change bell that jolts Winnie awake each morning effectively puts the audience smack dab in the middle of Winnie’s hellish existence.
Director Rob Melrose is completely true to Beckett’s intentions, which in all honesty makes for a show that is boring at times. Beckett wrote the play in 1961, and the script shows its age with its slow movement and lack of exposition. However, it is what happens to the viewer AFTER the show that makes it worth watching. PlayMakers patrons will spend hours and, perhaps, even days contemplating Beckett’s symbolism and asking themselves tough questions about the piece — and about their own lives.
HAPPY DAYS, which opened on Sept. 8th and runs through Sept. 12th, is part of PlayMakers Rep’s PRC2 second-stage series, which opening night Wednesday featured a helpful post-performance talkback with the two actors, the director, and a Beckett expert from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty. Audience members were able to share their thoughts and feelings about the show and ask questions. Although that panel did not attempt to answer all of the questions that the work raises, they did offer some interesting observations and insights. Although it might not be the most exciting show of the year, HAPPY DAYS is definitely one of the most daring and thought provoking.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 9th Durham, NC INDEPENDENT WEEKLY review by Kate Dobbs Ariail (who awarded the show 5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/blogs/artery/; and Sept. 9th Chapel Hill, NC DAILY TAR HEEL review by Colin Warren-Hicks (who award the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2010/09/happy_days_deliverspemotion and Sept. 8th preview by Ali Rockett: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2010/09/becketts_days_honors_the_absurd. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 4th TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/09/at-playmakers-rep-winnie-gets-that-sinking-feeling-in-happy-days-by-samuel-beckett/.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents HAPPY DAYS at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8-11 and 2 p.m. Sept. 12 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY (7529) or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.aspx.
VENUE: http://www.playmakersrep.org/aboutus/kenan.aspx. PARKING/DIRECTIONS: http://www.playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo/.
NOTE: There will be a post-show discussion after each performance.
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Days_(play) (Wikipedia) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=4197 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Film: http://www.beckettonfilm.com/plays/happydays/synopsis.html (Beckett on Film) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0263422/ (Internet Movie Database).
The Playwright: http://www.ua.ac.be/main.aspx?c=*SBECKETT (Samuel Beckett Society), http://www.samuel-beckett.net/ (Samuel Beckett On-Line Resources and Links Pages), http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=people&keyword=name&first=Samuel&last=Beckett&middle= (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8590 (Internet Broadway Database), and (Internet Movie Database).
Rob Melrose: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/artist.aspx?id=67e755c5-856c-43c0-9d0b-24367dfbfee8 (PlayMakers Repertory Company).
Julie Fishell: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/artist.aspx?id=c9da9859-953a-4ed4-b8ee-96a67bab2aad (PlayMakers Repertory Company).
Ray Dooley: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/artist.aspx?id=8af68993-6769-49d2-a611-58e367e5526f (PlayMakers Repertory Company).