Monday, May 9, 2016

Theater Review: Happy Days -- Yale Repertory

Dianne Wiest in Happy Days. Photo © Joan Marcus, 2016.
Happy Days Again at Yale with Rock-Solid Turn by Dianne Wiest
By Lauren Yarger
Two-time Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest returns to Yale Repertory to give a rock-solid performance in Samuel Beckett’s tour-de-force for an actress, Happy Days, directed by James Bundy.

On this rock mound (massively created by Scenic Designer Izmir Ickbal), everything is far from happy. Winnie (Wiest) is buried up to her waist in the rocks, with only a bag with some items within arm’s reach. Her husband, Willie (Jarlath Conroy) is living in a hole somewhere behind her. He never really talks to her. On occasion, he completes the arduous task of crawling up the rocks to see her.

Somehow, as Winnie tries to read the writing printed on her toothbrush and chatters on about everything and nothing, she expects this to be a happy day, despite the feeling that she is about to be sucked down into the earth. Mostly, she just doesn’t want to be alone. Perhaps the sound of her own voice brings her comfort and lets her forget the truth that her husband seems perfectly content to sit with his back to her, ignoring her while he reads the paper.

“That is what I find so wonderful, that not a day goes by --to speak in the old style -- hardly a day, without some addition to one’s knowledge however trifling, the addition I mean, provided one takes the pains. And if for some strange reason no further pains are possible, why then just close the eyes and wait for the day to come.”

Whatever the reason, Winnie speaks about the little things in life, the beauty in them and gives a portrait of the indomitable human spirit in the two-act (which would play better in a trimmed 80-minute show without the interruption of an intermission). Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting defines moments.

Buried up to her waist, or later to her neck on the barren lump of sand-colored rock offering only a few springs of plant life, Wiest never lets your mind wander, even if you don’t completely understand what is taking place.

“Well anyway—this man Shower—or Cooker—no matter—and the woman—hand in hand—in the other hands bags—kind of big brown grips—standing there gaping at me—and at last this man Shower—or Cooker—ends in er anyway—stake my life on that—What’s she doing? he says—What’s the idea? he says—stuck up to her diddies in the bleeding ground—coarse fellow—What does it mean? he says—What’s it meant to mean?”

What does it mean, indeed? I’ll let you decide, but don’t miss Wiest’s rock-solid performance. She returns to Yale where she appeared in Hedda Gabler and A Doll House. Her Academy Awards were for the films “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Bullets Over Broadway.” Conroy, whose subtle performance allows Wiest to shine at the top of the pile, also is returning to Yale where he appeared in Hamlet in 2013.

Happy Days runs through May 21 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets $20–99: www.yalerep.org; (203) 432-1234. Student, senior, and group rates are available.

Audio Described Performance Saturday, May 14 at 2 pm (talk back follows). The performance Saturday, May 21 at 2 pm will be open captioned.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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