Karen Miller and I saw Samuel Beckett's *Happy Days* at Theatre For a New Audience in Brooklyn on 4/26/17. Let me meet you at the pass and say that the play has NO relation to the beloved 1970s sitcom. *Happy Days,* the TV show, was about Richie Cunningham and his friends and family in 1950s Milwaukee. *Happy Days,* the play, is about a woman in a vaguely post-apocalyptic world, buried up to her waist in dirt. You see the similarity. Her only companion is her husband, who is mostly silent and/or absent. She spends the first two-thirds of the play buried up to her waist in dirt, and the final third buried up to her NECK. And it's Beckett's warmest, sweetest, most life-affirming play!
This is the third time Karen and I have seen this play, we see nearly every Beckett production that comes through town. We first saw Lea Delaria do it at a kooky little theater downtown, in the winter of 2005. Delaria was wacky, she used all kinds of funny voices, like it was her way of keeping herself entertained, keeping herself company. Then we saw Fiona Shaw do it at BAM in the winter of 2008. Her interpretation was rather grand, like a 1930s film star. She dealt with her loneliness and abandonment by pretending that she was above it. This production is at the Theatre for a New Audience, a transfer of a production that originated at the Yale Repertory Theatre. The star is Dianne Wiest.
I'd never seen her onstage, and she was extraordinary. Delaria and Shaw had a sort of stagy way with the dialogue, which worked great - - Wiest was more naturalistic and ordinary, which also worked. And I felt that having an older actor in the role raised the stakes: it was more of a strain for her to keep her spirits up. She was heartbreaking.
The previous two productions had the feel of a one-woman show with brief visits from the other actor, and that's how the play feels, when you read it - - but this production really made it feel like a duet instead of a solo. I don't know if the other actor (Jarlath Conroy) was onstage more, or if she included him more, but he certainly had more presence than in the other productions. That also made the play more touching.
Wiest has referred to the role as "the Hamlet for women." She made me think more of King Lear! It's a real tour de force role, a destination. I hope I get to see many more productions of it, and I hope that Karen Miller will always be sitting next to me.
By the way, a friend asked me if Richard was going to this. I said, "He'd rather have a root canal." He saw the Fiona Shaw production and that was MORE than enough.