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Happy Days

Samuel Beckett
The Kameri Theatre, Tel Aviv, 1985

Hebrew Translation: Mulli Meltzer
Directing: Michal Govrin
Set and Costumes: Frieda Klapholtz, Doron Livne
Lighting: Avi Tzabari

Actors:
Winnie: Hana Meron
Willie: Uri Levi

In Happy Days, one of the three full-length plays written by Samuel Beckett, an exceptional theatrical perfection is achieved. The stage is designed as a bare mound lit by a bright light, in which Winnie is buried up to her hips. Behind the mound lies Willie, the husband, who scarcely speaks. The play is a long monologue that Winnie addresses either to herself or to Willie, while trying to make it through her day, from the ring that commands her waking till the ring that commands her sleep, by endless blabbering and banal occupations. Fragments of poetry and stories from her and Willie’s past cause her to cling onto “the beautiful days”, which were also, it is suggested, not beautiful at all.

In the second act Winnie is buried up to her neck in the sand, her eyes alone are still moving. She no longer has the option of digging in her purse. The words are slipping away. She does not even know if Willie is still alive, until right before the end, when he suddenly appears in front of her and reaches towards her, to kiss her or perhaps to get a hold of the gun that is placed next to her.

The Image of Winnie and Willie, like the images of other heroes of Beckett’s, have turned into a symbol of the state of modern man. As the heroes of the classical tragedy, they fight their fate – the strangeness, the pain, the desperation, the fear of loneliness, the muteness, the coming death. They pull out all the roles they have learnt “then” and “there”, they pull out all the articles they have dragged with them. Winnie brushes her teeth, does her nails, wears her hat, prays, reads the paper. Along with the trivial rituals of life, she quotes, makes speeches, recalls, tells stories or speaks for the sake of speaking. Her rituals and words allow her to escape those static moments in which, as she says, “the sadness overflows”.

Winnie and Willie are stuck in a wilderness. Yet someone else is watching: “a strange feeling”, says Winnie in a low voice, “a strange feeling that someone is watching me. I am clear [to add the quote from the English version of the play]”. Who is it that watches? Is it the sky that Winnie prays to in the first act and no longer prays to in the second act? Is it the master of the mysterious ring that compels her to open her eyes, like a puppeteer pulling the strings of a marionette? Is it the audience in the hall? Or perhaps it is that introspective gaze, which forces us to keep on struggling, which reminds Winnie in moments of cruel wakefulness of her true condition, and which forces her and Willie to go on acting. “"תשמרי על ההופעה" אומרת ויני לעצמה, "אני תמיד אומרת, יקרה מה שיקרה, תשמרי על ההופעה". [quote from English version]

The characters of every great work of art are capable of evoking feelings and connotations that belong to the specific time and place in which the spectators meet them. The directing of the play in Tel-Aviv of the mid 80’s, writes Govrin, has evoked “an image of sands on a shore, or crowdedly built blocks in the middle of nowhere, to which immigrants have been emitted, eroded. Immigrants that arrived at the shores of Israel in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, torn from their motherlands, from their youth, their strangeness sticking out in the new alienated environment, dragging behind them bundles of objects, clothes, tastes, customs and memories from “there”, from “then”. Even years later, in old age, they continue to act that “old style”, strange, perhaps more than ever, to the ever-distancing world of modernity and change”.



 

“The pleasure of watching the play is, of course, a function of the embodiment. The maturation of an experienced actress, the sensitivity of a human being, the tenderness of a woman slowly sinking in old age, in sickness and in fears – all of these take part in this outstanding performance, which is a true solo recital of a virtuoso artist. […] The excellent directing allowed the orchestration of all details and the never ceasing flow of emotions…”

(Extract from: Chava Novek. “Oh, Winnie’s sad days”. Davar. 31.1.85)

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