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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
Happy Days

A CurtainUp Connecticut Review No worse, no better. No change, no pain. — Winnie
Happy Days
Dana Ivey
(Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
A lengthy curtain speech by the director in which he explains that you probably won't understand a lot of the play you're about to see and that it probably will have a different meaning for each person usually doesn't bode well for expectations of a bunch of satisfied theater goers at play's end.

In the case of Samuel Beckett's modernistic play Happy Days at Westport Country Playhouse, Mark Lamos was right. Some will see it as a commentary on growing older. Others will take away lessons on marriage. Still others will see it as a look at love, or relationships, or the cruelty one human can inflict on another. Whatever the take — even if you are unable to come up with a take —- a riveting performance by Dana Ivey keeps things interesting, even for the puzzled.

\\ Ivey is Winnie, a woman literally walled up by a lifetime of experiences (she appears covered up to her chest atop a large pile of rocks framed by a grey and white background designed by John Arnone). Though most of her life has been difficult, Winnie manages to find reasons for celebration. Nothing is worse or better than the day before, she tells us, and in that lack of change, she finds cause for joy.

Appearing from time to time, while he's not off crawling around in a hole in the rocks, is her husband, Willie, clothed in dirty tattered rags. Winnie barks commands to him in the middle of incessant chatter about a collection of random items she takes from her purse. These include a toothbrush, a mirror and a handgun — just a few things from everyday life.

She shares her observances of life and notices the smallest details. She continues to find unexplained happiness in all of them, even when the pile of rocks buries her up to her neck in the second act and can't find Willie (a brief drop of the curtain separates the acts, but action resumes without a break).

Ivey's terrific performance rivets us just as solidly as the rocks that trap her Winnie. We can't wait to hear what Winnie will say next, even if her talk seems to make no sense. And we really want to know whetherl Willie will ever crawl around to the front of the rock pille so Winnie can see him as she orders him about.

Happy Days is a departure from the usual fare at Westport in its 80th anniversary season, the first full one for Lamos as artistic director. Listen to his speech at the top of the show, give it a few minutes and you'll probably buy into Beckett's absurd world and the deceptively happy Winnie and Willie.

Editor's Note: The concept of easy, fun summer fare has been challenged at many other summer venues. As Westport audiences are seeing Happy Days so another of Beckett's enigmatic plays, Endgame, is selling out at Berkshire Theatre Festival's second stage (review.

Happy Days
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Mark Lamos
Cast: Dana Ivey (Winnie), Jack Wetherall (Willie)
Scenic and Costume Design: John Arnone
Lighting Design: Stephen Strawbridge
Sound Design: John Gromada
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission
Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport, CT
Performances: Tuesdays at 8 pm, Wednesdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3 pm.
Tickets $35-$60. Student, educator and group discounts are available (toll free 1-888-927-7529) or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.
July 6-24, 2010
Review by Lauren Yarger based on performance of July 10, 2010
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