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A CurtainUp Review
By Les Gutman
My friend announced immediately after the show that he had no idea what it was supposed to mean. That's pretty much standard operating procedure with all of Beckett. After a satisfying production, however, this confession is footnoted, without irony, by a lengthy statement as to its meaning. The warning flag here can be found in the nothingness that followed.
Three things are certain: (1) the famously controlling Beckett is rolling in his grave; (2) in the abstract, this is one of the most amusing productions of Happy Days you are likely to see; and (3) it is probably the longest production you will ever be asked to sit through. Purists will be scandalized by this production ipso facto. For the rest of us, the question is whether letting Ms. DeLaria be herself -- for that's the simple translation of Mr. Cohen's treatise -- makes any sense. Has the production converted what is perhaps Beckett's second best known play from a meditation on human existence into anything more than an entertainment? And in any case what possessed those involved to permit the frivolity to linger to the point of tedium? The first act of this show runs 75 minutes; there's not much excuse for letting the entire thing last much longer than that.
Ms. DeLaria discovers a treasure trove of voices, both spoken and sung, with which to mine Beckett's language for funny business. (I suspect the cemetary might have reached 5 or 6 on the Richter scale when she began channeling Ethel Merman, but it's only one of a dozen or more such concoctions.) But there are surely better sources of material for a comedy routine than Samuel Barclay Beckett, and I can say with equal certainty that there are more effective ways of conveying his ideas. Yet by the time Willie (played here with a deliciously idiosyncratic blend of grunts and squeals by David Greenspan) makes his "final approach," I felt the full force of the play. Though this Winnie's character is clearly lost in the shuffle, and though even what we gain of it is quite wrong -- Ms. DeLaria imbues the early Winnie with a cynicism that grievously alters the equation -- I must say I am impressed by the play's resilience. But then I am not a newbie.
In early versions of Happy Days, the script made explicit reference to a nuclear holocaust; these references were eliminated yet it's not too surprising that this imagery often returns to the depiction of Winnie's mound. David P. Gordon's set follows this general path -- rather than an earthen mound, Winnie is found in what appears to be a bombed out concrete bunker. Jill BC Du Boff's sound design opens the show with a consistent sensibility -- a fierce cataclysmic sound force envelops the dark stage before Scott Bolman's entirely fine lighting comes up. Curiously, Kim Gill's costumes don't convey this idea at all -- her designs are strictly "a day at the beach".
LINKS TO OTHER REVIEWS OF HAPPY DAYS
Cherry Lane (NY)
Mabou Mines (NY)
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.