Los Angeles Theater Review: HAPPY DAYS (Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena)

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by Jason Rohrer on September 19, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

HEAVENLY DAY

Samuel Beckett’s 1960 two-hander Happy Days presents a life in hell: Winnie, a middle-aged lady half-buried in an apocalyptic wasteland, is awakened and put to sleep by a harsh, ominous, unexplained buzzer; a lecherous and monosyllabic cripple, her husband Willie is little help; her day consists of finding ways to not go insane, to not despair; it is a negative existence. And yet she does not succumb. She is indomitable. And as performed by Brooke Adams at Boston Court, she is quietly, reasonably human about it.

Brooke Adams in The Theatre @ Boston Court's production of Beckett's HAPPY DAYS - photo by Ed Krieger

It’s a straightforward, unflashy, and intimate performance that belies the usual tendency of Beckett renderings to feel shrink-wrapped and pre-ordained, given the restrictions imposed by the estate. This script’s stage directions are as stringent as any: The buzzer is specified to run, sometimes “say ten seconds,” other times “say five seconds.” Breaks in the speeches—the show is essentially a two-act Winnie monologue with occasional interruptions by Willie—are designated “Pause” or “Long pause.” But director Andrei Belgrader, by laying back and indulging the silence, has allowed Adams to realize all the sympathy available from an audience. The show is not brisk. The life it describes is not brisk. But it is very much alive.

Brooke Adams in The Theatre @ Boston Court's production of Beckett's HAPPY DAYS. Photo by Ed Krieger.

Theater of the Absurd can easily go awry if too much license is taken by a creative team. Beckett saw his intentions as inviolate, potentially devastated by irreverence or meddling, and anyone who’s seen a student production of Pirandello knows he was right to worry. Belgrader does not meddle, but neither does he prostrate himself. Adams, and her husband Tony Shalhoub as Willie, seem to be inventing this scenario in real time.

Tony Shalhoub and Brooke Adams in The Theatre @ Boston Court's production of Beckett's HAPPY DAYS - Photo by Ed Krieger.

In bits scattered through the entire show, but especially in a phenomenal display of physical dexterity in the second act, Shalhoub provides the hideous counterpoint to the existentialist question: What if living means losing what makes life worth the effort? Well, as Winnie shows, that needn’t happen; no matter how much is taken from us, there’s always something for which to be grateful. The strain of sentimentalism that runs through Beckett’s work has never sounded so hip to me as now, because this Winnie made me want to live as vibrantly as she does.

Brooke Adams in The Theatre @ Boston Court's production of Beckett's HAPPY DAYS - photo by Ed Krieger.

Tony Shalhoub in The Theatre @ Boston Court's production of Beckett's HAPPY DAYS - Photo by Ed Krieger.photos by Ed Krieger

Happy Days
Theatre @ Boston Court
70 North Mentor Avenue in Pasadena
scheduled to end on October 12, 2014
EXTENDED to October 19, 2014
(Marc Cardiff will replace Tony Shalhoub in the role of “Willie.” Shalhoub’s final performance is Sunday, October 12, 2014)
for tickets, call (626) 683-6883
or visit www.bostoncourt.com

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