In 'Days,' it's the small things that bear watching
By JOSEPH T. ROZMIAREK
Special to The Advertiser
Ah, Samuel Beckett — suffering and survival in the face of absurd meaninglessness — not everybody's idea of a diverting night out on the town.
But, then, The Actors' Group has never been driven by satisfying everyone's idea of entertainment; it has stubbornly survived as a small performance group by choosing plays that are often difficult and provocative.
So it is with Beckett's "Happy Days," a work less generally known than his "Waiting for Godot," but remembered for its strong central image of a woman (Betty Burdick) buried up to her chin in a hill of sand.
Two acts of an essentially one-woman monologue? We're not asking for tap-dancing, leggy chorus girls, but really: What is one supposed to watch?
The small things, as it turns out: the blink and roll of Burdick's eyes, her fixed stare at a revolver only inches from her nose that she cannot reach, the wag of her head as she repeatedly determines to remain cheerful and optimistic.
"Oh this is a happy day, this will have been another happy day! (Pause.) After all. (Pause.) So far."
In Act One, when Winnie is buried only to her waist, she busies herself with the daily chores of brushing her teeth, primping in a makeup mirror and making the best of things.
She also tries to communicate with Willie (David Farmer), her supposed husband, who is free to move about, but remains unresponsive. He lurks behind the sand dune, showing only the back of his head as he reads a faded newspaper.
As Winnie sinks deeper into the sand in Act Two, Willie seems to have disappeared. In between calling for him, Winnie recalls the past or makes up stories. She struggles to remember, "What is that unforgettable line?" She greets the rude alarms and the bright sunlight that awaken her with a grateful "Hail, Holy Light!"
Burdick delivers Winnie's run-on lines with the lulling security of a mantra or rosary prayer: "No better. No worse. No change. No pain." She also spices them up with pauses and flashes of emotion, as if doing battle with words that need not only to be illuminated, but overcome.
Eventually, Willie makes a full appearance in formal morning dress, crawling up the sand to reach her. Whether he wants to give her a kiss or use the pistol is never revealed. But Winnie continues to cheer him on as he slips ever farther away.
Liz Kane directs respectfully and lets Beckett take the lead.
"Happy Days" is seen by some as Beckett's clearest expression of the human challenge to remain alert and even incongruously cheerful until irrevocably swallowed up by the earth.
Its message? Well, things could be worse.