HAPPY DAYS by Samuel Beckett, directed by Vikki Anderson, with Martha Burns and Michael Simpson. Presented by Soulpepper and DVxT in association with Harbourfront Centre at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Runs in rep to August 16. $28-$46, stu $25. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Some people say happy days is Samuel Beckett 's most upbeat play. But that's like saying the Atlantic Ocean is wetter than the Pacific. You can't get away from Beckett's dark undertones, though director Vikki Anderson 's production for Soulpepper has a soap-bubble lightness that's pretty amazing. Thank Anderson and Martha Burns , who shoulders the weight of the play as the self-centred Winnie, buried up to her waist in sand - here, in Anderson's design, a mound that more resembles a giant cow pie, surmounted by a proscenium arch - in the first act and up to her neck in the second. Nothing fazes the philosophical babbler as she looks around, anticipating another blissful day, reviewing the past and smiling at the future.
Burns glows with memories, talks to and bosses her laconic husband, Willie ( Michael Simpson ), who sometimes appears from his burrow on the far side of the mound, and fills time with activities "to tide one over." There's a warmth to Burns's performance even when she suggests Winnie must push herself to keep going or shows more desperate emotions.
It's a hard role to pull off, not least because of the possibility of skipping five pages of dialogue without realizing it. Burns expertly captures the comic absurdity of the part and the ritual qualities that keep Winnie going in a bleak universe, and Simpson makes a good foil, revealing a surprising power by the end.