By Sheila Martindale
Monday Magazine theatre reviewer
Winnie and Willie are living (existing would probably be a better word) in a barren landscape, in Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days, being staged by the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre.
Owing to her disability, Winnie can never quite see Willie, but she keeps up her patter of communication with him, and he responds with a series of grunts. Typical of any couple in late middle age?
I see this barren landscape – designed and created by Blue Bridge’s Hans Saefkow – as possibly being a seniors’ residence of poor quality, or perhaps a nursing home providing the minimum care on a shoestring budget.
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In Act One, Winnie is visible from the waist up, as she sorts through the contents of her market bag; but Act Two finds her completely bedridden, with only her head appearing. Her conversation goes from inconsequential chatter to the bare essentials required for basic communication.
The couple’s days and nights are governed by a series of bells, in this case the strident sounds of the fire alarm, making those in the audience wonder if they should head for the exits.
Like most of Beckett’s work, this play offers a bleak look at the meaning of life, and the picture can be quite depressing. But we should not get away with dismissing the work as being about nothing.
Donna Belleville’s performance is brilliant and worthy of the standing ovation she received on opening night. Michael Armstrong’s role is much less demanding, except in the final few minutes, when he almost comes to life with an extraordinary physical interpretation of the text.
Under the guidance of director Arne Zaslove, Happy Days is a theatrical tour de force. It runs at the Roxy Theatre until May 5. Visit bluebridgetheatre.ca for tickets or more information, or call 250-382-3370.
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