Happy Days @ the Lantern Theatre [Review]

Photography courtesy the Lantern Theatre

There isn’t a whole lot of action in the Lantern Theater Company’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. But that’s understandable – the main character, Winnie (excellently portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Scallen), spends the entire show buried in the scorched earth of an unforgiving arid desert. The set never changes. There are few lighting or sound cues.

For many other theater companies, it could be a recipe for disaster, but Director David O’Connor creates an atmosphere and tone that keeps the production moving. Plenty of plays with far more drama and plot have failed to capture the humor and meaning that come across in this production.

Throughout much of the first act of Happy Days, the driving mystery is what exactly is written on Winnie’s toothbrush. But there are far greater unknowns lurking just beneath the surface – like why Winnie and her rarely seen husband, Willie (Brian McCann) are stuck in this purgatorial day at the beach. Happy Days hinges on Beckett’s writing and wit, delivered superbly by Scallen. It’s through Scallen’s performance, and the few choice lines left for McCann, that the production really finds its stride and works as something more entertaining than simply an avant garde theater piece.

But only in a play so stripped down and absurd is the audience forced to ask the kind of questions Beckett wants you to ask. The playwright had specific notes on how the mound of earth that encases Winnie should be constructed. Maybe that’s proof that there’s a greater meaning to the show. It’s entirely unclear what that meaning is – and that is most definitely the point.

Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days
September 24 – October 18

The Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen’s Theater
10th and Ludlow, Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 829-0395
www.lanterntheater.org

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