becket's happy days
by sk dunn
the only time i ever saw happy days was in france. we were in paris
waiting to go to iran and byrd asked me if i wanted to go with him
to see a beckett play performed in an atelier at jean-louis
barrault's country home outside of paris. winnie was played by his
wife; madelieine renaud. we use to see them in paris the year
before because their theater company was based in the theater where
we performed deafman glance. carroll had taken me to see children of paradise
in the 50's (one of his favorite movies) so it was a treat to see
him around. i was also an admirer of his because they kicked him out
of being the director of the theatre de france when he sided with
the workers & students during the '68 riots. he played willie. the
atelier was upstairs in an old restored barn on their property somewhere
about an hours drive from paris. . byrd brought a huge bouquet of
flowers for madame renaud (she was around 70 at that time-1972) and
told me what the play was about as we ate dinner at a country inn on
the way there, because, of course, it was in french and i didn't
understand a word. it was fantastic. absolutely thrilling. best
theater experience of my life.
* * *
in 1982 jim neu & john nesci & i
did a piece called basic behavior at westbeth. jim & i wrote it and
i directed it. the scene
i wrote was about a relationship break-up. john & i were the couple
and jim was the friend. all the lines were actual lines that had
been said by me, cara & various "friends" during the break-up. john
played the straight man and i said most of my lines with a lot of
linda mussmann came and after the
show said that she would like to produce & direct a play of ours at
her theater. in 1983 we did america hour with her.
when we first started working together, linda talked to me a
lot about my doing winnie. looking back on the experience,
i came to realize that she liked the irony that had been in
basic behavior. we did
not have a good time working together.
it was clear that she didn't like my material and i realized
later that it was not ironic enough and that was the biggest problem.
when i decided to do winnie and
jessie & danny agreed to do it with me i was still under the
impression that winnie was being ironic and was already into
rehearsals when, to my horror, i realized that she wasn't being
ironic at all and that i had absolutely no understanding of who she
was or what she was about.
it was my first & last encounter with "acting" and it was a
nightmare. cara helped
me get through it but i never felt that i truly understood winnie.
safe to say that she was as far from being me as anyone could
finding myself in her situation,
the last thing i would ever do is try, valiantly, to "keep my chin
up", which i think is what winnie is doing.
she never complains, she fights off fear & self pity, she
prays, she sings and she tries to find the bright side.
how much further from me could she be ?
she is also grateful to willie for his less than minimal
support and treats him with kindness and affection. what a gal !!
i suffered through the run at the
studio and when some one at a theater somewhere asked me to bring
the show there i said: no way. . never again. however, helen
badgered me into doing one show in st helena.
by that time i didn't care so much
anymore and i think it was the best performance of them all.
about half way through the first act the lights went out (during
a pause in the monologue) and cara got up and said: there will be a
short intermission. . what a gal. . . so most of the audience didn't
know there was anything wrong and when the lights got fixed we went
not only did i never "act" again
but i only performed once after that (in buffalo dreams) which was
another sort of a nightmare, (more to do with directing), and i
never did theater again.
so. . as you can see i have a lot
of mixed emotions about winnie. i do often think about her and wish
that i could be more like her. she's a lot braver than i'll ever be.
i agree with becketts view of life being hell on earth. even
more so as i get older.
* * *
my favorite beckett story:
a friend was walking
with beckett one day and remarked on what a beautiful day it
was. beckett agreed. then the friend said: "it's one of those days
that makes you feel glad to be alive" and beckett said: "oh i
wouldn't go that far."
by sk dunn
* * *