Happy Days

“Don’t overdo the bag,” says Winnie (Fiona Shaw), buried up to her waist in a pile of sand and rubble, possessing only a bag of simple objects – toothbrush, umbrella, pistol – with which to relieve the tedium of her constricted existence. Winnie is a master at rationing out her activities in order to create some semblance of variety in her life, a mastery matched by that of Shaw and director Deborah Warner in utilizing the limited theatrical resources bequeathed to them by Beckett during the first act of Happy Days, a transplant from London’s National Theatre now playing at BAM.

Winnie’s monologues are as rich as her possessions are economical and Shaw, her lilting Irish tones a perfect match for Beckett’s quotidian poetry, unpacks every bit of humor and pathos from within them. Shaw brings an almost impossible athleticism to this immobile role, emphasizing in lightning-quick succession Winnie’s hauteur and her vulnerability, her boldness and her fear. This Winnie is a determined winner, pluckily optimistic (or insanely delusional, take your pick) despite her desperate situation and the first act plays as a humanistic paean to man’s (or, in this case, woman’s) capacity to make bleakness bearable. In the shorter, more severe second half, with Winnie buried up to her neck, the production falters; Shaw, with only her expressive face in view, still evokes empathy, but the conception of Winnie’s brutish, subhuman husband (Tim Potter), who crawls out of his hole to share a final tableau, lacks assurance. At the production’s overly abrupt conclusion, one recognizes anew that none of us, even people as resourceful as Shaw, Warner, and Winnie, can fend off the inevitable blackness forever.



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