Happy Days

CAN YOU DIG IT? Fiona Shaw makes the best of a difficult spot.

CAN YOU DIG IT? Fiona Shaw makes the best of a difficult spot.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

The ground rises up like a hungry grave in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, and when we first see Winnie—a middle-class blatherskite played by the superb Fiona Shaw, in a performance of lacerating clarity, humor and force—she is planted waist-deep in a mound of scorched earth, already half-devoured. How she landed in this predicament is never quite explained, but in Deborah Warner’s staging there are more clues than usual: The barren landscape that Beckett describes has been altered, in Tom Pye’s set, into postapocalyptic rubble, with slabs of broken building materials jutting from the dust. Here as elsewhere in this truly remarkable production, the abstract is made concrete.

Warner’s Happy Days, which began at the National Theatre of Great Britain before transferring to BAM for a limited run, is a magnificent achievement: quite simply the best Beckett production I have seen, and the first play to earn TONY’s full six-star rating in the nearly two years we have employed it. The most accessible of Beckett’s works, the play is a brilliantly witty metaphor for the desperate comforts of mundane ritual in the face of decay and inevitable death. (“One can do nothing. That is what I find so wonderful,” as Winnie says.) By the brief, harrowing second act, the ground has moved up to Winnie’s neck, and still she bravely babbles on to her all-but-absent husband, Willie (Potter); the play never pretends that her stiff good cheer is anything but a loser’s bluff, but the effect is never merely grim. Shaw’s tour-de-force star turn continuously finds room for human breath amid the constrictions of Beckett’s stage directions, never ceding to bleak generalities. She and Warner bring Beckett’s mortality tale perfectly down to earth.

BAM Harvey Theater. By Samuel Beckett. Dir. Deborah Warner. With Fiona Shaw, Tim Potter. 1hr 30mins. One intermission.