Samuel Beckett’s monologue is rarely staged because Winnie, the middle-aged lead, is buried up to her waist in a mound of barren earth. For decades, noted actresses have had a pass at the material. Here, comic songstress Lea DeLaria and director Jeff Cohen have a go at Happy Days’ doomed, but hopeful, existentialism.
Despite being stuck in the ground Winnie is eerily jovial and determined to have a “happy day.” Her only diversion is a bag filled with knickknacks, a toothbrush-and gun. Her husband Willie appears, himself unencumbered, a mystery with his back turned and caught up in his “newspaper.”
Happy Days is a difficult play to sit through. Indeed, a third of the house at CST left at intermission, and a fight almost broke out in the first rows between angry and pleased audience members. The play has always drawn this type of reaction — the first of Beckett’s works to break with scenic realism, in essence a dialogue with the audience.
When Winnie returns in the second act buried to her neck, it becomes increasingly difficult for her to remain sunny, though try she does, singing her songs, sure that Willie is “still” enamored with her.
Though unquestionably an able comic actress, one wonders if DeLaria brings the level of elegance and gravitas Beckett’s subtle, song-like prose demands. Happy Days is absurdist black comedy, not straight comedy. There is a difference.