Happy Days exposes the eternal and sometimes hopeless optimism that most of us learn to summon in our most vexing moments

Theatre lovers in the city were in for a dramatic treat as Irish playwright, poet and Noble Peace prize laureate Samuel Beckett's “Happy Days” was performed at Ranga Shankara recently.

Presented by The Rogue Theatre production and Bangalore-based theatre group Ligra, “Happy Days” is one of Beckett's most inspirational and yet oddly absurd plays ever written.

The play in two acts revolves around Winnie, a middle-aged woman who is buried in a mound of earth. Despite the desperation of her predicament, she seeks to fill the hours with reminisces, comments, laughs, grumbles, along with incessant chatter to Willie, her husband, who is unseen till the last part of the second Act.

Dressed to kill, Willie reaches up as if in a bid to help her but picks up a gun lying nearby and the play ends there leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Surreal as it gets

Patty Gallagher, who plays the protagonist, Winnie, says: “Beckett is known for putting his characters in extreme conditions and making them speak normally. Now we don't know why Winnie is stuck in the mud but what is more surprising is that she is prattling away as if it's just another day,” she marvelled.

“The whole setup is so surreal and has a structurally visual aspect to it. All Winnie has is a large black bag with all her worldly possessions. What stands out most is her acceptance of her quagmire and the optimism with which she claims that this is still one of her happy days.”

Patty feels the longer she does the role, the easier and more difficult it gets. “Beckett writes the play like music and I am fascinated by the cadence of his beats as well as incredibly inspired by Winnie. I love the challenge each time and ‘Happy Days' is the hardest and best thing I've ever done.”

She also explained that this play is special as the protagonist is a woman.

“Beckett normally doesn't give too many roles for women. He is very specific about men and women playing their respective roles.”

“Happy Days” is a lot like Beckett's other plays; filled with terse and often absurd drama with elements of the absence of God, loneliness, lack of human communication and preoccupation with everyday life.

Beckett often puts his characters into endurance tests and Patty quotes Beckett who said, “Who else could endure such hardship and yet go down singing, other than a woman.”

There are several ways to interpret the play. For Patty, Willie is a portrait of steeliness and will, and a large inspiration in her life.

“Rogue Theatre Productions loves to do plays with this kind of porous nature and uncertainty, which is completed with an audience.”

When asked to critique the play Patty said she finds it hard to put herself against the genius of Beckett. “This is one of his strongest and most remarkable pieces ever written and I feel it is flawless. He is so precise with language and words and was his most searing critic.”

“Happy Days” exposes the eternal and sometimes hopeless optimism that most of us learn to summon in the face of our most vexing burdens and largely elucidates the ferocity of the human spirit, the trap of existence and the limited nature of communication.

Patty Gallagher is Associate Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she directs courses in physical theatre, mask, Balinese dance, and clown traditions.

A well known expressionist, Patty is also a movement artiste and eagerly looks forward to learning Indian dance styles such as Bharatanatyam and Kathakali during her stay in the country.