TAG gambles, wins with 'Happy Days'


POSTED: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No one can accuse the Actors Group of playing it safe with the works it chooses to present or in the way it stages them. For instance, TAG didn't cop out and eliminate the pivotal full-frontal nude scene in “;Equus”; when it presented its revival of the Broadway hit in a space barely larger than the average living room. And, rather than frequently revisiting popular mainstream plays with a built-in audience, TAG has presented challenging lesser-known historical dramas such as “;The Insanity Case of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln,”; “;Copenhagen”; and “;Anna,”; and also challenged American perceptions of acceptable sexual diversity with “;The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?”;

TAG's current production of Samuel Beckett's “;Happy Days”; is another significant artistic gamble.






        » Place: The Actors Group Theatre, 1116 Smith St., second floor


» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 9


» Cost: $20 general; $15 seniors; $12 students, military and groups of 10 or more (Fridays through Sundays); $10 on Thursdays


» Call: 722-6941


» On the Net:


Beckett is very much an acquired taste in modern theater, and “;Happy Days”; will appeal primarily to those who are already fans of his writing. However, the show should also be of interest to serious enthusiasts and students of stage acting. The production is essentially a 90-minute monologue by Betty Burdick in the role of Winnie, and she owns the stage from the moment the lights go up.

Winnie is an Englishwoman buried up to her waist in a sand dune. Winnie's husband, Willie, sprawls unseen on the far side of the dune, apparently naked and unable to do little more than occasionally sit up and read lines from the want ads. (Anyone whose reaction to the situation is “;Why doesn't someone get a shovel and dig her out?”; is not Beckett material.)

Buy into the premise and Burdick's performance is easily worth the price of admission. We watch her play a woman who is determined to make the best of her situation and takes an optimist's delight in each small joy. Winnie frets over Willie, naked and unresponsive as he may be, and reviews the experiences of past and present, the ups and downs of her life, with grim determination to get through another day, insisting that it is going to be another “;happy day.”;

We find Winnie buried up to her neck after intermission but facing life with the same indefatigable optimism.

Burdick neatly captures every shifting nuance of the character's emotions and gives an unforgettable performance.

Is Winnie dead? Are they both in hell? Doesn't anyone in England have a shovel?

David C. Farmer (Willie) is seen briefly from the shoulders up several times in Act 1 and appears for the enigmatic climax of Act 2. Farmer “;does his bit,”; as Winnie might say, in contributing to the dramatic success of the production.

Is Beckett commenting on the state of many marriages, two people of long acquaintance trapped together in close proximity but responding to the situation in different ways?

Longtime Beckett fans might recognize key markers and underlying themes in play, but other than that, Burdick's performance is an impressive piece of work in and of itself.