THE SUN SHINES STRONGLY ON “HAPPY DAYS”


    BONNIE GOLDBERG

Never for a moment confuse Samuel Beckett’s moving allegory on life and death, hope and despair, with the popular television series from the 1960’s starring a commanding Fonzie and his pal Richie Cunningham. Both are named “Happy Days” but there the comparisons abruptly end. Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven is offering a brilliant rendition of the former until Saturday, May 21 that true lovers of the theater should not miss.

Imagine a barren mound of earth, not quite a mountain, but certainly more than a molehill, in which a woman, the intrepid Winnie, is trapped. She is visible from the waist up, with no viable means of escape, yet she is determined to make the most of her plight.

Diane Wiest is superb as Winnie, a woman of valor who carries on with the business of living with nary a complaint, content to fill her days with the ordinary things that bring her joy. Within easy reach is her large black bag, much like the one Mary Poppins carried, that contains the trivialities and treasures that will help her endure under the blazing sun. Her toothbrush can be fascinating. The last drops of a liquid elixir fortifying. A smear of red lipstick brightening. A revolver a comforting necessity.

Winnie does not need much to make this “a happy day.” To talk to her taciturn and seemingly absent husband Willie and share memories of their time together, to quote a poetic phrase, to hear a romantic tune on her music box and to push away despair and not let it win are Winnie’s daily challenges. When, out of the blue, Willie, an earth bound Jarlath Conroy, responds, she is ecstatic. Even when she prattles on as if he is there, his potential presence is all she needs for encouragement.

As Winnie’s predication worsens, Ms. Wiest marks every meaningful moment with extraordinary emotion, in a pout, a raised eyebrow, a sly and knowing smile, a flinging of arms embracing the world. How can this woman persist in being hopeful?  How can she not? Director James Bundy has fashioned a compelling theatrical challenge for the heart and mind.

For tickets ($20-99), call the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. Performances are Tuesday - Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. most Wednesday and Saturdays.

Let Samuel Beckett take you on a journey through a desert of darkness in the hope of finding the light of the Promised Land.


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