BWW Review: Dianne Wiest Brings On the Sun in Beckett's HAPPY DAYS

BWW Review: Dianne Wiest Brings On the Sun in Beckett's HAPPY DAYS

Happy Days/by Samuel Beckett/directed by James Bundy/Mark Taper Forum (MTF)/through June 30

Theatre of the Absurd is offbeat and terribly entertaining, but you must have the right actors and skilled direction. Fine director James Bundy has dynamic actress Dianne Wiest in the role of Winnie in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days. With her consistently optimistic outlook crashing up against a cloudy world, laughs are guaranteed. Currently onstage at the MTF through June 30, the play will have audiences mesmerized by the dandy work of Miss Wiest and her partner Michael Rudko playing her husband Willie.

This play is practically a monologue by Wiest. Rudko is in the background in Act One and responds with a sound or a yes or no and does not make a real appearance until the end of Act Two. Winnie's monolgue takes the form of talking to herself, and at times to the audience, and playing with a few props that come out of a big black bag at her left. You see, she and Willie are in a sandpile; she is buried up to her waist in Act One and to her neck in Act Two. It's a bizarre place for a play, but as in all plays of this genre, the place is symbolic of the world...barren, unproductive and without genuine purpose until the end of time. Winnie pulls a magnifying glass from the bag, toothpaste, eyeliner, lipstick and other items to make her face pretty. She prepares for, in her words, another heavenly day. She reads the info on the package of each item and what comes up over and over are the words genuine and pure. She produces a music box that she plays to lighten her spirit. At one point she pulls out a revolver and lays it on the ground to her right. She must put the items methodically away in the bag, but when it comes to the gun, she leaves it out. Is she planning to kill herself to end her true misery?

She speaks of nature around her and how she needs to fill time until the sleep bell rings. She is bored, in a state of desperation, especially with the lack of support and caring from Willie. When he speaks to her, she refers to it as a surprise, making it a special day. She refuses to give in to despair; she is determined to go forward and survive at all cost...and with a smile or giggle, knowing full well that we are watching her. The silence between Winnie and Willie is straight out of a stale marriage. They like many have inappropriately stayed together and are exceedingly unhappy with one another, with no proper communication or real love. Winnie sadly is alone.

Happy Days is very akin to Beckett's other play Waiting for Godot, also a two-hander. The characters sit and wait and wait some more for God to appear, but he never does. It's what they do in a humorous state of mind to make the time pass that makes any of the waiting - living - tolerable.

Under Bundy's well paced direction, Wiest is a delight to watch. There is an internal spark that drives her Winnie forward. She uses delicious facial expressions and a lilting voice, moving, almost twirling her arms around her, as if dancing to alleviate her entrapment. Willie physically fumbles, making us sympathetic to him and his inability to function, particularly in an amorous way toward Winnie. Rudko does abundantly well with his brief appearances.

Set design by Izmir Ickbal is right.on and Alexae Visel's intriguing costumes encompass a vast period of time.

Winnie's sexual references to the blazing hot sun and the changes in her appearance over time make a sad situation even sadder and the play leaves one wanting a more fruitful existence for her. This production is a winner with its superlative direction and performances, especially from the resilient Wiest.

(photo credit: Craig Schwartz)

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From This Author Don Grigware

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