Happy Days: Theater review by Helen Shaw
The prospect of seeing a Samuel Beckett play, such as his despair-filled Happy Days, can make even a fan of absurdism reach for a drink. But rejoice, for there’s no need: Andrei Belgrader’s production is its own champagne, sparkling with wit and grit.
Brooke Adams plays Winnie, a chatty matron buried to her waist in an existentially significant mound of dirt. This is one of Beckett’s bleakest hellscapes. The Pollyannaish Winnie can barely move and has only two companions: her near-silent husband, Willie (Tony Shalhoub), grubbing around in a hole out of sight, and her handbag, whose supplies are getting low. The actor playing Winnie—one of the great roles of serious drama—defines the play, and when Adams makes the character charming, she renders Beckett’s indictments somehow sweet. Since 1961, Winnie’s obliviousness in the face of terror has been read as a condemnation of human stupor. Yet this Winnie seems brave as much as blinkered, and despite the play’s hypnotic quality, her chipper courage and radiant smile pierce through the gloom.—Helen Shaw
Flea Theater (Off Broadway). By Samuel Beckett. Directed by Andrei Belgrader. With Brooke Adams, Tony Shalhoub. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission.
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