Eternal questions

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  July 11, 2006

At the Publick, Diego Arciniegas helms a frisky cartoon of a production in which even simulated oral sex seems G-rated. Smut is just not on Freed’s merry mind. Gabriel Kuttner is a sympathetic, sad-sack Shakespeare given to bursts of eloquence that surprise even him. M. Lynda Robinson, absent too long from local stages, is an amusingly cranky yet yearning Queen Elizabeth — a girl forced into Rushmore mode when all she wanted was a little spanking. As Anne Hathaway, hopping between bard beds in her fetching Rafael-Jaen-designed trollop wear, Helen McElwain is adorably goofy — though hardly as sultry as Eric Hamel’s towel-draped Henry Wriotheseley, de Vere’s “girly earl.” And Bill Mootos, in Ruth Reichl wig, leather pants, and codpiece, is an arrogantly dissipated yet human de Vere whose underplayed death scene lends the shenanigans a whiff of poignancy. As he points out when cajoling Shakespeare into playing silent banana, “it’s about the work.” And as the bumpkin Bard wanders into the future reverently bearing the canon, for a moment that observation seems truer than all the pratfalls.


HAPPY DAYS: Everything from Winnie’s husband to her lipstick is “running out.”
There is no mistaking the Beckett authorship; no one could confuse Waiting for Godot with waiting for Lefty or Guffman. Valor in the face of the void is a keynote, and never is it more magnificently evoked than in Winnie, the cockeyed optimist of Happy Days (at Gloucester Stage Company through July 16), who is wedged tight in earth but still finds courage to put her face on. Everything from husband Willie, who lives in a hole behind her hill, to her lipstick is “running out,” but, talkatively, Winnie soldiers on — at least for the first act. By the second, when the binding sand has ascended from her waist to her neck, as in some reverse hourglass, Winnie has become less chipper, and prayer escapes her. But still there is the memory of love, sound, sensation. This is a beautiful piece for an actress, goofy and heartbreaking at once, and at Gloucester Stage Company, where a youngish Paula Plum assayed it in 1991, Nancy E. Carroll picks up the baton and runs with it in mordant celebration of Beckett’s centennial. Born in 1906, the Irish-born Nobel laureate died in 1989, but, on paper, he had been sparingly, eloquently dying for years.

Scott Edmiston’s production respects Beckett’s minute instructions in most respects, an exception being Janie E. Howland’s painted-foam set, which forgoes the playwright’s gentle mound amid scorched grass for something that looks like Mount Doom crossed with old, melting cheese (and which does not rise to bury
Winnie but apparently sucks her under). Neither does the vividly changing hue of Deb Sullivan’s lighting adequately evoke the blazing sun that Winnie imagines may eventually melt or char her. But Carroll, in blond wig and strapped pink bodice, surrounded by small comforts ranging from a white parasol and black shopping bag to a revolver called Brownie, does a fine job with the play’s mix of lyrical non sequitur and abrupt humor. And she captures Winnie’s vain, heroic pluck, whether she’s scrutinizing a toothbrush, lost in reverie sparked by a first kiss, relaxing into sadness, or “laughing wild amid severest woe.” Carroll does in fact have a lusty laugh, and her Winnie is a lusty woman whose rusted human condition would seem to have been more carnal than romantic. You get the feeling that “That day, what day?” with Willie so long ago was not spent chasing butterflies through the bracken. Now, of course, life has been reduced to a case of “I talk, therefore I am” — so long as there is a poor shard of a human to hear.

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