Renaissance Theaterworks' Presents HAPPY DAYS, By Samuel Beckett
Renaissance Theaterworks will continue its 27th season of "Transformation" with Samuel Beckett's 1961's modern masterpiece, HAPPY DAYS. Through Winnie and her relationship with husband Willie, the play explores a world that appears to consist of pointless or misunderstood communication, that seems to lack purpose and direction, and yet, reminds us that in the midst of despair, we survive, find inner strength, and continue to look for hope and salvation.
HAPPY DAYS runs January 24 - February 16, 2020 in the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center (158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202). Directed by Renaissance Theaterworks' Co-Founder Marie Kohler, this production will feature Milwaukee artists Laura Gordon (Winnie) and Todd Denning (Willie). Tickets for HAPPY DAYS are currently on sale through the Broadway Theatre Center Box Office (158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202, 414-291-7800 or www.r-t-w.com).
HAPPY DAYS offers a barren parched set inhabited by only two characters: Winnie, a woman in her fifties, and her husband Willie, a man of about sixty. Act I opens with Winnie buried up to her waist in a mound of earth. She lives in a world of never-ending sunlight from which she has no escape: even the parasol she unfurls bursts into flames, leaving her without protection. But Winnie is an eternal optimist, although she has to work harder and harder to keep up her positive front which is already wafer-thin when we first meet her. Her effortful optimism is expressed in her carefully precise, self-correcting refrain, "Oh this is a happy day, this will have been another happy day." Husband Willie lives and moves - on all fours - behind the mound, appearing intermittently and speaking little...
In Act II, Winnie is buried up to her neck and can only move her eyes. She can no longer see Willie and he does not answer her calls.
In HAPPY DAYS, as in other plays, Nobel-Prize winner Samuel Beckett explores existential questions such as life's purpose, hope, happiness, love, marriage, aging and the inevitability of death. By stripping his plays down to their barest essentials and using absurdity and humor to help relieve the viewers' anxiety, Beckett frees them from attempting to make sense of the senseless.
When asked about the inspiration for HAPPY DAYS, Beckett said: "Well I thought that the most dreadful thing that could happen to anybody, would be not to be allowed to sleep so that just as you're dropping off there'd be a 'Dong' and you'd have to keep awake; you're sinking into the ground alive and it's full of ants, and the sun is shining endlessly day and night and there is not a tree ... there's no shade, nothing, and that bell wakes you up all the time and all you've got is a little parcel of things to see you through life. And I thought who would cope with that and go down singing, only a woman!" Beckett was referring to the resilience of a woman's spirit.
Often considered the Hamlet for women, Winnie is a mountain of a role, both physically and emotionally - the consummate role for Milwaukee's virtuosic actor Laura Gordon. Laura is very familiar to Milwaukee audiences, as both a gifted director and esteemed actor. Over the last thirty years, she has graced the stages of Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act Theatre and Renaissance Theaterworks. "We are very fortunate to have an actor of Laura's abilities cast in the role of Winnie," says Suzan Fete, Renaissance Theaterworks Artistic Director. This role has been played by theatre legends such as Irene Worth, Fiona Shaw, Estelle Parsons, and Dianne Wiest.
Director Marie Kohler shared her thoughts about HAPPY DAYS: "Considering its dark themes, what draws us to this play? Personally, I find it evocative and poetic - not hopeless, not nihilistic. As hard as it may be to hang in there, Winnie and Willie try. They use their history, rituals, snatches of poetry and song to make meaning; they reach out to each other, despite ineptitude and fear; they struggle to engage. These impulses and communications - Winnie's in particular - represent a certain kind of heroism to me. As Beckett wrote in The Unnamable (about Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill): 'I can't go on, I'll go on.' It's why I continue to find illumination - and hope - within this play."
Tickets for HAPPY DAYS may be purchased through the Broadway Theatre Center Box Office (158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202, (414) 291-7800 or www.r-t-w.com).