Monday, May 22, 2017

Theater Review—Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” with Dianne Wiest

Happy Days
Written by Samuel Beckett; directed by James Bundy
Performances through May 28, 2017
Theatre for a New Audience, 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY

Dianne Wiest in Samuel Beckett's Happy  Days (photo: Gerry Goodstein)
It’s her voice that does it. Despite the deep, throaty intonations of her signature line, “Don’t speak!”, hilariously repeated throughout Woody Allen’s 1994 classic Bullets Over Broadway, Dianne Wiest is known for her fragile, even squeaky voice that flutters and fibrillates. But as Winnie—the defiantly unflappable heroine of Samuel Beckett’s shattering comedy about mortality, Happy Days—Wiest gathers reservoirs of strength almost entirely through that unique instrument: that’s because Winnie, initially buried up to her waist in a mound of sand, finds herself trapped up to her neck at the end.

With easy mastery, Wiest displays Winnie’s unbridled brightness throughout her two-hour near-monologue—occasionally interrupted by appearances by Winnie’s husband Willie—punctuating her dialogue with the hopeful exclamation “happy days.” Wiest’s Winnie is sympathetic without being pathetic, and optimistic without being naïve, her precise and subtle gestures punctuating the hilarious (and often devastating) prattle that Beckett wrote to demonstrate her last, desperate attempt to stave off inevitable extinction.

James Bundy perceptively directs on Izmir Ickbal’s impressive set of an arid landscape, adhering closer to Beckett’s stringent stage directions than did Deborah Warner’s 2008 staging at BAM with Fiona Shaw. Jarlath Conroy’s amusing Willie complements Wiest, who finds the poignancy and sadness in Winnie’s final song, leaving a collective lump in the throat of the entire audience.

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