Theater review by Adam Feldman
Desperate times call for desperate pleasures. In Samuel Beckett’s bleakly comic 1961 play, Happy Days—or is it comically bleak?—Winnie (the wonderful Dianne Wiest) is trapped waist-deep in a parched heap of earth. A desert sun beats down on her unceasingly; her husband, Willie (Jarlath Conroy), who lives behind her, barely responds to her efforts to engage him. Her bizarre predicament variously suggests encroaching death, an unhappy marriage and a torture chamber, but Winnie does her best to stay grateful and upbeat. She putters and natters, performing her daily ablutions and repeating fragments of memory and verse (“What is that unforgettable line?”)—even when, after intermission, the earth has risen to her neck.
And yet, as Winnie herself acknowledges, “Sorrow keeps breaking in.” The affecting revival at TFANA, directed by Yale Repertory Theatre’s James Bundy, welcomes such sadness: In Wiest’s beautifully limpid performance, moments of bitter self-awareness pass like clouds over Winnie’s determined sunniness, enriching the play’s absurdism with plangent notes of deep feeling (including real hurt at Willie’s inattention). This Happy Days fills you with a desire to comfort its heroine, but also with the knowledge that such comfort could only be cold. Hang in there, baby. It’s almost Doomsday.
Theatre for a New Audience (Off Broadway). By Samuel Beckett. Directed by James Bundy. With Dianne Wiest. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission. Through May 28.
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