Two of the Triangle’s finest actors and one of the area’s leading directors combine in the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s inaugural production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, presented Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 8th by Duke Performances in The Space at Smith Warehouse in Durham, NC. Marcia Edmundson and Tom Marriott, two very familiar faces to Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill theatergoers, do some of their finest work here — as the indomitable and irrepressibly optimistic Winnie and her weak and virtually mute husband Willie. Actor/director Jay O’Berski, who is famous for portraying wild-and-crazy characters in a variety of offbeat comedies, gives Happy Days a smart and savvy staging that helps confirm the 1961 play’s reputation as a masterpiece of the Theater of the Absurd.
When the curtain rises — more accurately when the shower curtain is swept aside, the audience discovers poor Winnie planted up to her waist in a mound of earth covered over by scorched grass— a post-apocalyptic landscape if ever there was one. As Winnie ignores her surroundings and cheerfully chatters away, also paying little heed to her potentially life-threatening predicament, the audience quickly realizes that it is not in some theatrical Kansas anymore, but has been transported to a bleak and blasted wasteland — perhaps, the poetic-symbolic ruins of a long marriage gone to hell in a hand basket — where a loud change-of-classes bell rudely signals sunup and sundown.
In Act I, as Winnie unpacks some ordinary and some shocking objects from her capacious handbag, she chatters away, blissfully unconcerned that the end of her constricted existence may be much closer than she realizes. Meanwhile, Willie — like many husbands in any time and place — makes a belated appearance, back to the audience, blood-spotted handkerchief and hat on head, reading a newspaper and virtually ignoring his magpie of a wife.
By the opening of Act II, which opens with Winnie buried up to her chin, Willie is (apparently) nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, Winnie prattles on.
No matter how miserable her personal circumstances, Winnie sees every day as a “happy day”; and Marcia Edmundson does a brilliant job of recreating Winnie’s Pollyannaish perspective of life. Her crisp and irrepressibly cheery characterization of Winnie is a tour de force, and Tom Marriott’s virtually silent but highly amusing and ultimately poignant comic cameo as Willie provides a perfect foil for Edmundson’s crowd-pleasing performance.
Director Jay O’Berski, who is a master of communicating crackpot characters and cerebral humor to Triangle audiences, does an outstanding job here of staging a sassy Happy Days for the 21st century on David Berberian’s earthy set, which resembles nothing so much as a compost heap with a woman planted in it. The creative contributions of lighting designer Steve Tell and stage manager and properties mistress Dana Marks also make Happy Days a must-see comedy.
Note: Plan to arrive at least a half-hour early to enjoy the intriguing preshow, which consists of several short works by Beckett performed live or on audio or video tape. (Not every “exhibit” of Beckett’s genius is performed every night.) The short works include “Rough for Theatre I,” directed by Michael A. Smith and starring Rick Lonon (A) and Michael O’Foghludha (B); “Footfalls,” directed by Katya Hill and starring Cheryl Chamblee (May) and Dierdre Shipman (Woman’s Voice); “Ohio Impromptu,” directed by Jay O’Berski with J Evarts and Dana Marks; “Rough for Radio I,” directed by Dana Marks and performed in a crate by Jeffrey Scott Detwiler (He) and Katya Hill (She); “Rockaby,” directed by Tom Marriott and starring Jane Holding (W and V); “Words and Music,” a radio play performed and recorded by Daniel Foster; and “Eh Joe,” a piece for television recorded by Adam Sampieri, with Cheryl Chamblee (Woman’s Voice). At intermission, the shows include “Come and Go,” performed live by Katya Hill (Ru), Nicole Quenelle (Flo), and Dana Marks (Vi); and “Cascando,” a radio play performed and recorded by Kit Wienert.
Duke Performances presents the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern in Happy Days Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, and Oct. 6-8, at 8 p.m. in The Space at Smith Warehouse, 114 S. Buchanan Blvd., Durham, North Carolina. $15 ($5 Duke University students). 919/684-4444 or http://www.tickets.duke.edu/. Duke Performances: http://www.duke.edu/web/dukeperfs/. Directions to The Space at Smith Warehouse: http://www.fmd.duke.edu/fmddirections.pdf [inactive 11/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=4197. Samuel Beckett (1969 Nobel Prize for Literature): http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1969/. Samuel Beckett: Apmonia: http://www.themodernword.com/beckett/index.html [inactive 11/05].
Duke Performances will present the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s inaugural production of Happy Days, expatriate Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s 1961 masterpiece of the Theater of the Absurd, Sept. 22-Oct. 8 in The Space at Smith Warehouse, a new performance space located at 114 S. Buchanan Blvd., near Main St., in downtown Durham (see link below for directions). Former Shakespeare & Originals founder Jay O’Berski will direct Triangle theater veterans Marcia Edmundson as Winnie and Tom Marriott as Willie in this offbeat two-character comedy in which Winnie is literally sinking deeper and deeper into the ground, but chatters on and on about trivialities as if her precarious condition were the norm.
“When Jay [O’Berski] first asked me to do this, and I read it,” says Marcia Edmundson, “I felt immediately connected to Winnie. Her character is inspiring to me, because she always looks on the bright side, and yet there’s that tough determination underneath that’s always pushing forward.”
When the curtain rises, Edmundson says, “We find Winnie embedded in a mound of scorched grass and [talking a blue steak]. Hopefully, she brings the audience into her day, which for her is wonderful. She has no complaints, even though her supplies are running out, her supplies being her lipstick and her toothpaste.”
Edmundson says, “Winnie, by her very name, she is winning — at least she feels she is. She delights in the smallest of things. I think she’s sweet and funny, and we laugh at her for these small delights. But I think she’s inspiring.”
She adds, “There’s a prop in the play that becomes a bit of a character called Brownie. It becomes a presence in the play. I’d tell you what it is, but I don’t think I should say.”
Marcia Edmundson says, “Winnie has a big bag — her bag of comforts. For the most part, they’re girlie things: mirror, lipstick, her hat. I think Brownie will be a fun surprise for the audience. He becomes an intriguing presence. The fun — sort of Beckett — thing is, you never quite know where [Happy Days] is going….
“In Act I,” Edmundson explains, “Winnie is very cheery, even though she’s sinking in a mound of dirt and it’s a life-or-death situation…. As an actor, I love those levels. Winnie has got that beautiful, cheery, delightful level; but she’s also tough. She has the tenacity to survive, in her life-and-death struggle, like Southern women do.”
Happy Days is the first Beckett play for Marcia Edmondson. Tom Marriott previously played Lucky in on the 1969 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature’s Waiting for Godot for Transactors Theater Company (now Transactors Improv Co.) and Hamm in Beckett’s Endgame, opposite Jay O’Berski as Clove, for Deep Dish Theater Company. (He also played the title role in King Lear and Prospero in The Tempest for Shakespeare & Originals.)
In Happy Days, this critically acclaimed leading man is content to play a supporting role. “Winnie is a great role for an actress,” he explains, “and Marcia’s doing a really great job of playing a woman in her 50s who’s buried up to her waist and doesn’t seem to be able to get out of the hole. In the second act, she’s buried up to her chin. I play her husband, Willie, who sits behind her and reads the paper.
“Winnie tries to make a life out of the contents of her handbag,” Marriott reports, “when she’s able to reach it. In the second act, she tries to amuse herself by figuring out what she can possibly see. She vents her irritation on her husband, who seems to have become completely mute by that point. Then there’s a kind of touching denouement at the end, which I won’t describe, because it’s kind of a surprise.”
Triangle leading lady and audience favorite Marcia Edmundson says, “Jay O’Berski is such a wonderful director for this piece. I really appreciate the opportunity to do this role. I am very flattered and honored that Jay offered this role to me.… Jay has a good sensibility for realizing the play. Happy Days is very demanding, and Jay keeps us focused on the intentions of the playwright.
“In addition to the text,” Edmundson points out, “the stage directions are extremely specific: Open your eyes, Close your eyes, Turn a newspaper page. We have tried to be true to that, and it’s been hard…. I feel that Jay and Tom and I have worked really well together, trying to be true to Beckett’s intentions. That’s really rewarding. When you do it, you discover within it — embedded in the stage directions — the dynamics of what’s happening with the characters.”
Tom Marriott adds, “Different people react in different ways to absurdity, and I’m one of those who find it very funny. Others find it frightening, and others boring. But I find it to be very funny and oddly liberating.
“Happy Days is a classic example of the Theater of the Absurd. There’s a heavy vaudeville influence in the play. It’s clearly there. Beckett was very fond of vaudeville and the slapstick comedy of Charlie Chaplin,” claims Marriott.
“If anyone has seen Waiting for Godot,” Marriott claims, “they know the general form of this play. It’s very spare. The language is terrifically rich although spare. So many things have double meanings. There’s [graphic artist MC] Escher-like quality to the piece…. You think you’re going somewhere, and suddenly you’re right back where you started from. If you HATE Waiting for Godot, you’ll hate Happy Days. But if you liked Waiting for Godot, you’ll like Happy Days.”
Duke Performances presents the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern in Happy Days Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 22-24, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, and Oct. 6-8, at 8 p.m. in The Space at Smith Warehouse, 114 S. Buchanan Blvd., Durham, North Carolina. $15 ($5 Duke University students). 919/684-4444 or http://www.tickets.duke.edu/. Duke Performances: http://www.duke.edu/web/dukeperfs/. Directions to The Space at Smith Warehouse: http://www.fmd.duke.edu/fmddirections.pdf [inactive 11/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=4197. Samuel Beckett (1969 Nobel Prize for Literature): http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1969/. Samuel Beckett: Apmonia: http://www.themodernword.com/beckett/index.html [inactive 11/05].