Photo: Joan Marcus
The production as a whole doesn't listen to Beckett's words or else fails to examine the anguish behind them. It is a coarsened version of Happy Days, complete with masturbation and flying snot. Willie's reappearance at the end of act two is treated as slapstick rather than desperation. These decisions, while lessening the impact of the play, can be justified based on the text. Less justifiable is the moment when Winnie signals the audience to clap to try to entice Willie to sing. If Winnie is aware of the audience, than her isolation is considerably less isolated.
[end of spoilers]
Curious as to just how many liberties Belgrader took with Beckett's play, I reread the text and carried out some research, but still had questions. So I posted a query on the often-helpful All That Chat. ATCer earlybird reminded me that YouTube has a version of Happy Days directed by Samuel Beckett himself. (Act one here; act two here.) Thank you, earlybird!
The Beckett-directed version, starring the astonishing Billie Whitelaw, is a must-see. In comparison, the production at the Flea is thin gruel indeed. Beckett's direction is spare and schtick-free. Whitelaw's Winnie is full-blooded and real. She feels and lives the minutes of Winnie's life as they slowly and grimly tick by, so her optimism becomes a form of heart-breaking bravery. And her quiet despair in the second act is devastating.
How odd that a live performance should feel so meager and distant, while a poor-quality video should burst with dimension and humanity.
(For a fascinating and heartbreaking look at many different Winnies--and piles of earth--click here.)
(press ticket, 4th row)