In “Happy Days,” Samuel Beckett’s bleak but compassionate 1961 play being given a witty, compelling production at The Flea, Brooke Adams as Winnie is buried in a mound of dirt, sometimes with a gun pointed at her head, while behind her, her husband Tony Shalhoub as Willie grunts, or groans, or flips through a browning newspaper, or — in a climactic moment of movement – crawls toward her.
What exactly is going on?
Some have claimed Beckett’s play as a metaphor for marriage. Others see it as a vision of totalitarian or apocalyptic times. Recent readings associate it with climate change. I myself see a look at the process of aging.
There is enough in the text to justify any of these interpretations. Who, for example, is ringing the bell that wakes Winnie up every morning, facing another day stuck in a mound? And then Winnie is sometimes worn down — “So little to say, so little to do, and the fear so great.” Yet she is also often optimistic: “That is what I find so wonderful. The way man adapts himself. To changing conditions.”
Whatever metaphor the play awakens in the audience, the appeal rests in the two performers. Adams, carefully coifed, with a lovely white smile, prattles on to the unseen Willie and is determined to keep busy, with the help of her elegant parasol and the contents of her black handbag, containing the essentials of her existence – a toothbrush, a small mirror, a pair of glasses, lipstick, a bottle of medicine, a gun. Why a gun? Pick your metaphor.
As Willie, Shalhoub has a total of maybe ten minutes of activity in the two hours of the play; this is the Winnie show. Nevertheless, he manages to be hysterical, memorable, a spot-on impersonation of a member of your family.
The production, originally presented at the Boston Court theater in Pasadena, California, is the closest we’ll get to a sunny Beckett,
at the Flea
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Andrei Belgrader
TakeShi kata scenic design, tom oNtiveroS lighting design, melaNie watNiCk costume design, roBert oriol sound design, madiSoN rhoadeS prop design, miChal v. meNdelSoN stage manager, alySSa eSCalaNte production consultant
Cast: Brooke Adamas, Tony Shalhoub
Happy Days is scheduled to run through July 18