Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Happy Days at SFU Woodward's

Winnie, in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, is one of those classic female theatre roles--like Medea or Hedda Gabler--that I imagine all great actresses aspire to play. Except that Winnie is no tragic figure, and it would be a mistake to read her predicament--mired up to her waist in sand in Act 1, and then up to her neck in Act 2--as one that induces in her paroxysms of despair and self-pity. Above all what Beckett reveals to us through the mix of metaphysical and delightfully bawdy "prattle" that he gives to Winnie is that she is not just hyper-conscious of both the temporality and the materiality of her situation, but also accepting of them. Indeed, there is a way in which the routine of unpacking her bag, or gauging when to sing her song, or wondering if her companion, Willie, having crawled back into his cave, can nevertheless still hear her, approaches a kind of daily practice of Buddhist enlightenment.

Certainly it was a revelation last night, watching Square Planet's production of the play in Studio T at SFU Woodward's, to witness Penelope Stella, in essaying the role, convey within individual lines the genuinely joyful insights and moments of discovery that Winnie revels in. I could have watched Stella puzzle out the corporate imprint on Winnie's toothbrush all evening. Joining Stella as Willie is Greg Snider, who also designed the ziggurat-like set. Together, under the expert direction of my colleague DD Kugler, these two former faculty members of the School for the Contemporary Arts succeed in conveying just how full and, yes, happy are Winnie's days. Unlike in Waiting for Godot, this is another Beckett play seemingly about nothing where it nevertheless feels like so much happens.

At the very least it says something that after 90 minutes of apparent stasis all I wanted to do was move. No matter Winnie's conclusion about Willie that "mobility is a curse."


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