By Sam Dunham
Daily News correspondent
Samuel Beckett’s influential play “Happy Days” got a faithful rendition at Cyrano’s Off-Center Playhouse Friday. While not everyone will be able to appreciate the meandering, allegorical piece, those who do will find the production touching and more than satisfactory.
The play contains no real story to speak of. For the first act Winnie (Bernie Blaine) sits on stage, stuck up to her waist in sand, chatting with the barely visible Willie (director Dick Reichman), who hardly speaks. The second act is more of the same, only she is buried up to her neck instead.
The beauty of the piece is not meant to be found in its action — or lack thereof. It is a deeply moving and metaphorical exploration of the human condition, which nobody does better than Beckett.
Winnie absent-mindedly rambles on, recalling memories and pondering her strange predicament. She insists she is happy, despite the fact she spends her days stuck in the ground, controlled by a mysterious bell, with only an ambivalent old man for company.
The astute observer may note she is being swallowed up by the world. Through her dogged resolve and forced emotions we get subtle signs of Winnie’s sadness and fear. Her pain gradually becomes unveiled, leaving a desperate and lonely person too afraid to admit she is unhappy.
Blaine handles this almost-one-woman-show with grace and eloquence. Beckett’s poignant poetics flow from her naturally and the play’s famous pauses are exceptionally realized by this talented actor. Winnie was humanized, which is good, considering she represents humanity; every bit a character and not a caricature.
We root for her to wake up and stop deluding herself. With her brief flashes of awareness we can choose to believe that, one day, she will. Or we can choose to resign ourselves as she has done. Either way, Blaine’s performance left me feeling appropriately sad.
Not everyone will be able to enjoy the magic of Beckett. There is no plot to follow; the only conflict to be found is within Winnie herself, which makes the play appear longer than its two hour running time. Winnie’s meditations can be tedious, to be sure, and often leave the viewer thinking, “Huh?”
One must resist the urge to ask why Winnie behaves the way she does. Instead, the audience member should let the words wash over and allow the feeling of the play ingrain itself. The significance lies in Winnie’s character, and the allegorical overtones which apply to all of our lives.
“Happy Days” leaves the audience emotionally drained, oddly touched and confused about their place in the cosmos. Anyone approaching the production with a receptive mind and ample patience should have a genuinely enlightening experience.
The play is somehow inspiring, tragic and personal all at once, suggesting (among other things) that our “happy days” lie somewhere between hope and hopelessness.
This production will continue with shows at 7 p.m. Thurs. - Sat. and at 3 p.m. Sun. through March 25 at Cyrano's, 314 D Street. Tickets are $17.50 at 263-2787 or centertix.net.
CREDIT: Sam Dunham is a philosophy major at UAA.