Saturday, January 12, 2008

Happy Days: 01/08/2008

I think Samuel Beckett's Happy Days is one of the great works of art of the twentieth century; so simple in premise, so rich in meaning, so beautiful in language. Winnie, the heroine, is buried up to her waist in the earth in the first act and up to her neck in the second act (and there is no third act). Her husband , Willie, is nearby but not in the same physical predicament. There are so many ways to interpret the “meaning” of the play, and for that matter most of Beckett's plays, that his estate's dogged insistence that all productions follow the exact text and stage directions makes sense; for a director to place the play in a more specific setting, for example, is to cancel out the other possible “meanings” thee play suggests and therefore cheats the audience. As subtle as it sounds, the one way directors can sneak a specific meaning into Happy Days is by the size of the “low mound,” the degree to which the grass is “scorched” and the amount of “blazing light” that is present as described in the stage directions. The mound of scorched grass currently at BAM in the National Theatre's production of Happy Days is enormous, stretching the entire length of the Harvey Theatre and out to the feet of the first row of the patrons in the orchestra. The grass, really what there is of it, is scorched to the degree that it is practically sand and the light is so blazing that at one point you can smell it. Not that I am suggesting that Director Deborah Warner has in any way violated the intent of Beckett's stage directions, in fact she has followed them to their extreme conclusion and the production is very well served by it, for against all this we have a very large Winnie in Fiona Shaw. Upbeat and energetic with just the right amount of underlining terror, Shaw seems (of all words!) comfortable as Winnie. This a a great production of a great work.

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