Updated: Nov 20
Absurd Happy Days
By Paul Atreides
Author, playwright, and Theatre critic at EatMoreArtVegas.com
In an effort to harken back to the origins of Vegas Theatre Company (VTC - formerly Cockroach Theatre), rising out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas theatre program, they have once again teamed up with Nevada Conservatory Theatre (NTC) to reprise the latter’s production of Samuel Beckett’s absurd comedy Happy Days. Just as musicals aren’t for everyone, and Shakespeare isn’t for everyone, neither is the theatre of the absurd for everyone. These plays feature illogical or meaningless lives with nothing to the plot. Except, there is always something there.
Samuel Beckett’s plays certainly fit that description. One has a tendency to ask, “What the hell was that about?” For a more modern take on those themes, one need look no further than Seinfeld. When asked what the show was about, Jerry Seinfeld reportedly famously replied, “Nothing.” In reality, that came out of an episode in which Jerry and George Costanza pitch “a show about nothing” to the networks, and it stuck and took on a life of its own. But each episode was about something.
But as with all theatre, it needs to resonate with the audience. In order to understand what the “something” is, they need to feel for the character and connect with them in some way. As one patron put it, doing Beckett is like doing Shakespeare. If it is done well, you don’t need to be a Shakespearian scholar to understand and enjoy it; if it is done poorly….
Directed by NCT’s Stebos, as evidenced by the absence of more than half the audience for Act Two, this production failed to connect.
Happy Days should be as relevant to today’s situation as it premiered in 1961 with the nuclear threat escalation with Russia. Things are bleak for poor Winnie (Kymberly Mellen). Her marriage to Willie (Martin Hackett) is no longer exciting; she feels stuck among the detritus of life, yet each morning, she has determined she faces “a happy day.”
At the opening, it should seem as if Winnie is talking to herself when speaking to an unseen, nonresponsive Willie with very few lines. Here, it came across as if she broke the fourth wall. It is a challenging role, to be sure; it’s a rolling two-act monologue, but Mellen’s performance felt stilted and mechanical. Much of the comedy didn’t land; the double-entendres didn’t land.
The set by Dana Moran Williams is well done. The earthen mound during Act 1 becomes the landfill of Act 2, nicely representing the ever-encroaching quagmire in which Winnie feels she is living. The lighting that sets so much mood in the first act turns stark amid abrupt changes in the second.
Savie N. Moore’s costumes are brilliant, though. The perfectly coiffed, perfect make-up and unsoiled dress bring an “all is well” effect even as we see Winnie buried up to the waist, then the neck.
If theatre of the absurd is your thing, and you are familiar with Happy Days and its “something,” you’ll likely enjoy this production.
What: Happy Days
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5 p.m. Sundays through Nov 26
No performance on Nov. 24
2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25
Where: 1025 S. 1st St., Suite 110
Tickets: $25 - $38 (www.theatre.vegas)
Grade: ** Still Hungry
Producer: Vegas Theatre Company, Nevada Conservatory Theatre; Artistic Directors: Daz Weller (VTC), Stebos (NTC); Director: Stebos; Lighting Design: Jordyn Cozart; Scenic Design: Dana Moran Williams; Costume Design: Savie N. Moore; Sound & Special Effects Design: Stuart Beck; Stage Manager: Jinay Reitze