A rouged Hollywood-perfect face is cheery amidst a heap of rubble. Stuck in a mound below the waist, she picks from a shopping bag a squeezed-out bottle of toothpaste and a brush. She checks off all the mid-century marks: consumerist, prayerful, and happy for all her blessings. She examines the handle of the toothbrush as if for a distorted ad campaign. In her Transatlantic voice, she reads: guaranteed … genuine … pure …
She calls on Willie (Jon Dambacher), an unseen friend seemingly buried in junk behind her, hoping for a taste of intimate conversation. He reads off the news in a garbled, strangled, and guttural voice: His Grace and Most Reverend Father in God Dr. Carolus Hunter dead in tub. He moans. It is as if Winnie (Kayla Boye), our half-buried star, can still see him, suit and tie, at breakfast, behind the paper and a cup of steam-swirling joe.
This version of Samuel Beckett’s modern masterpiece is no less curt and precise than Beckett fans would expect, in this writer’s opinion. The set has some fun aesthetic enhancements: a chair pierced through the middle by a gaunt tree with a worn lampshade to top it off, roof shingles strewn on the mound of dirt, and pieces of a white picket fence. It seems a torn-up suburb and collapsed construction site mixed.
HAPPY DAYS Shows Quotidian Life Cracked
As Winnie sinks further into the mound by the second act, her hair and makeup now disheveled, her arms fully restrained, she makes faces, her face being the only material available to her agency.
I can see it … the tip … the nostrils … breath of life … a hint of lip … if I pout them out … the tongue of course … you so admired … if I stick it out …
To this writer, the intimate space of City Lit Theater enhances the claustrophobic tightness of Winnie’s circumstance. When she speaks of someone staring at her with vacillating focus, Boye connects the audience with her gaze, making us feel involved and intimate, perhaps even uncomfortably so; such is a testament to Boye’s incredible ability with scant resources. Her facial expressions, her voice, from cheeky to solemn, garnered not a few laughs from the audience, which, in Beckettian fashion, were born of a hand-thrown astonishment at the absurdity of her cuteness in the face of malaise. Though well timed, her quips are like the twisted shards of a broken sitcom and not intended to satisfy us so superficially.
Dambacher, with only a voice at his disposal, is no less perfect, in this writer’s opinion. The desperately violent sound of his voice against the muffling junk evokes our sympathy and a strange humor when answered by a sometimes sunny and sometimes seductive Winnie. Their increasingly disjointed dialogue is one of the hallmarks of the play.
This version of HAPPY DAYS is a must-see for Beckett fans and for anyone interested in exploring a modern theater classic.
Kayla Boye (Winnie)
Jon Dambacher (Design and Director)
Erin Dillon (Sound Design and Artistic Contributions)
Carl Wahlstrom (Artistic Consultant and Audio Supervisor)
Samuel Beckett (Playwright)
March 17–April 2, 2023
Friday, March 17, 7:30 p.m. (press opening)
Saturday, March 18, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 19, 3 p.m.
Friday, March 24, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 25, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 26, 3 p.m.
Friday, March 31, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 1, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 2, 3 p.m.
City Lit Theater
1020 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue
Chicago, IL 60660
About the Author: Anthony Neri
An avid philosophizer and Dostoevsky fanboy, Anthony spends his time ruminating on very deep moral questions. Is he a genuine old soul or does he feign as much for the mystique?--perhaps a bit of both. When he isn't tormenting himself existentially, he reads fiction and translates ancient Greek and Latin texts, all the while developing his own literary flourishes with the hope of producing his very own dazzling prose. Cliche? Maybe. But he figures everyone starts out as a cliche.