I'm back from my weekend in New York, where my friend R. and I took in BAM's production of Happy Days and a performance by the British troupe 1927. I thoroughly enjoyed both; I was predisposed to like 1927's show, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, after I read a blurb that described them as Edward Gorey-esque, and I wasn't disappointed; some of their skits were a bit like watching a live-action version of The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Only with a movie screen with black-and-white animations in the background (with which the actors interacted), a kind of silent-film-meets-cabaret aesthetic, and a penchant for surreality that reminded me at times of Russell Edson's prose poems. I hope they go on another tour with their next show, whatever it may be. (Confidential to T., if you're reading this: You would love this group and their work. They even worked in a little homage to The Shining. If they're ever in your area, see them!)
And Happy Days: Well, there's a reason why Fiona Shaw is my favorite actress. I'm not really a Samuel Beckett fan, I must admit, so I was startled to rediscover how funny his work can be; also how strangely easy it is to accept the play's premise (woman buried waist- and then neck-deep in rubble in a barren post-apocalyptic landscape, chattering away to her mostly invisible husband). Somehow Fiona Shaw made it all make perfect sense. She nailed Winnie's determined cheerfulness and her not-quite-submerged awareness of the "sorrow" that she admits, at one point, "keeps breaking in." I found myself thinking that if I were in Winnie's situation I'd probably do the exact same thing: make the best of it, cling to routine, carefully ration out things to look at and think about, talk all day to anyone who might even hypothetically be listening. (In fact, I found myself thinking at one point that I've had days like that. Minus the buried in rubble factor.) And she was — as she always is — such a presence, even in a role that demands immobility. It was almost a shock to see her standing, unencumbered, during the curtain call — directing our enthusiastic applause, at one point, toward the bleak rocky set itself.
This is the second time I've seen Fiona Shaw on the stage (the first was in the Abbey Theatre's production of Medea when it went on tour); I hope there will be many more. I only wish I'd seen her as Richard II.