ONE OF SAMUEL BECKETT’S TRAGICOMIC MASTERPIECES
EXAMINES THE FRAGILE RELATIONSHIPS THAT BIND US TO ONE ANOTHER
-Virtuosic Milwaukee actor Laura Gordon plays the consummate role of Winnie-
Milwaukee, Wis. – (December 18, 2019) – Renaissance Theaterworks will continue its 27th season of “Transformation” with Samuel Beckett’s 1961’s modern masterpiece, HAPPY DAYS. Through Winnie and her relationship with husband Willie, the play explores a world that appears to consist of pointless or misunderstood communication, that seems to lack purpose and direction, and yet, reminds us that in the midst of despair, we survive, find inner strength, and continue to look for hope and salvation.
HAPPY DAYS runs January 24 – February 16, 2020 in the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center (158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202). Directed by Renaissance Theaterworks’ Co-Founder Marie Kohler, this production will feature Milwaukee artists Laura Gordon (Winnie) and Todd Denning (Willie). Tickets for HAPPY DAYS are currently on sale through the Broadway Theatre Center Box Office (158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202, 414-291-7800 or www.r-t-w.com).
HAPPY DAYS offers a barren parched set inhabited by only two characters: Winnie, a woman in her fifties, and her husband Willie, a man of about sixty. Act I opens with Winnie buried up to her waist in a mound of earth. She lives in a world of never-ending sunlight from which she has no escape: even the parasol she unfurls bursts into flames, leaving her without protection. But Winnie is an eternal optimist, although she has to work harder and harder to keep up her positive front which is already wafer-thin when we first meet her. Her effortful optimism is expressed in her carefully precise, self-correcting refrain, “Oh this is a happy day, this will have been another happy day.” Husband Willie lives and moves — on all fours — behind the mound, appearing intermittently and speaking little…
In Act II, Winnie is buried up to her neck and can only move her eyes. She can no longer see Willie and he does not answer her calls.
In HAPPY DAYS, as in other plays, Nobel-Prize winner Samuel Beckett explores existential questions such as life’s purpose, hope, happiness, love, marriage, aging and the inevitability of death. By stripping his plays down to their barest essentials and using absurdity and humor to help relieve the viewers’ anxiety, Beckett frees them from attempting to make sense of the senseless.
When asked about the inspiration for HAPPY DAYS, Beckett said: “Well I thought that the most dreadful thing that could happen to anybody, would be not to be allowed to sleep so that just as you’re dropping off there’d be a ‘Dong’ and you’d have to keep awake; you’re sinking into the ground alive and it’s full of ants, and the sun is shining endlessly day and night and there is not a tree … there’s no shade, nothing, and that bell wakes you up all the time and all you’ve got is a little parcel of things to see you through life. And I thought who would cope with that and go down singing, only a woman!” Beckett was referring to the resilience of a woman’s spirit.
Often considered the Hamlet for women, Winnie is a mountain of a role, both physically and emotionally – the consummate role for Milwaukee’s virtuosic actor Laura Gordon. Laura is very familiar to Milwaukee audiences, as both a gifted director and esteemed actor. Over the last thirty years, she has graced the stages of Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act Theatre and Renaissance Theaterworks. “We are very fortunate to have an actor of Laura’s abilities cast in the role of Winnie,” says Suzan Fete, Renaissance Theaterworks Artistic Director. This role has been played by theatre legends such as Irene Worth, Fiona Shaw, Estelle Parsons, and Dianne Wiest.
Director Marie Kohler shared her thoughts about HAPPY DAYS: “Considering its dark themes, what draws us to this play? Personally, I find it evocative and poetic – not hopeless, not nihilistic. As hard as it may be to hang in there, Winnie and Willie try. They use their history, rituals, snatches of poetry and song to make meaning; they reach out to each other, despite ineptitude and fear; they struggle to engage. These impulses and communications – Winnie’s in particular – represent a certain kind of heroism to me. As Beckett wrote in The Unnamable (about Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill): ‘I can’t go on, I’ll go on.’ It’s why I continue to find illumination – and hope – within this play.”
Samuel Beckett – Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) is one of the giants of twentieth century literature. His plays, Waiting for Godot (1948), Endgame (1955), Happy Days (1961), and Krapp’s Last Tape (1958), reinvented theatre by pushing the limits of the medium. A resident of Paris for most of his adult life, Beckett wrote in both English and French. In 1938, he joined the French Resistance as a translator. The destruction and anxieties of the war had a significant influence on his work. Beckett is considered one of the last modernist writers, along with James Joyce, and also one of the key figures in the Theatre of the Absurd. The term was coined by the critic Martin Esslin to group Samuel Beckett together with Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet and Harold Pinter, whose writings responded to the challenges of living in the 20th century – in a world oftentimes filled with nonsense and devoid of meaning. Beckett was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature. He quickly gave the 30,000 pounds award away to the library of Trinity College Dublin, his alma mater.
Marie Kohler (Director) – A co-founder of Renaissance Theaterworks, Marie served as a Co-Artistic Director for twenty years. She has previously directed A PHOENIX TOO FREQUENT, HONOUR, THE KREUZER SONATA, and play readings of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, BUS STOP and DUCK (Renaissance Theaterworks); DEAR ELIZABETH (Milwaukee Chamber Theatre); directed play readings at American Players Theatre; and co-directed BOSWELL (Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival). As Renaissance Theaterworks’ Resident Playwright, Marie wrote: COUNTING DAYS, MIDNIGHT AND MOLL FLANDERS, BOSWELL’S DREAMS and THE DIG. Playwriting credits also include A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST and BOSWELL, recently returning from its successful run in Scotland. Raised in Wisconsin, Marie holds a BA from Harvard University and MA from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; she studied directing at NYC’s Barrow Group. She was named “Artist of the Year” by the Milwaukee Arts Board (2005) and is currently proud to serve on the Wisconsin Humanities Council. A member of the Playwrights’ Center, Actors’ Equity Association and Dramatists Guild, she has served as Directing and Playwriting Respondents for Kennedy Center American College Theater Festivals.
Laura Gordon (Winnie) – A Milwaukee-based actor and director, Laura is very happy to return to Renaissance Theaterworks where she has appeared in LETTICE AND LOVAGE, AGNES OF GOD, and HONOUR. She has also directed RUSSIAN TRANSPORT, SKIN TIGHT, AMELIA, and MEMORY HOUSE for Renaissance Theaterworks. A long-time member of the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre’s resident acting company, her credits there include OUR TOWN (Stage Manager), GOOD PEOPLE (Margie), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (Linda Loman), DOUBT (Sister Aloysius), THE CRUCIBLE (Elizabeth Proctor), and MARY STUART (Queen Elizabeth). Directing credits include productions at American Players Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, Santa Cruz Shakespeare, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Indiana Rep, Next Act Theater, Forward Theater, and Actors Theatre of Louisville. A member of SDC and Actors’ Equity Association, she received her MFA in Acting from the University of Iowa, and is a Lunt-Fontanne Fellow.
Todd Denning (Willie) – Todd is a Milwaukee-based actor, director, fight choreographer and teacher. Todd spent his summer with the Utah Shakespeare Festival, playing Richard Burbage/Ben Jonson in THE BOOK OF WILL, Sir Toby Belch in TWELFTH NIGHT, and Banquo in MACBETH. Most recently, he was seen as the Ghost of Christmas Present in A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Milwaukee Rep). Other credits include South Coast Repertory, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act Theatre, Door Shakespeare, Skylight Music Theatre, Illinois Shakespeare, Willamette Rep, Milwaukee Shakespeare, Tennessee Rep, Georgia Shakespeare, In Tandem, Optimist Theatre and First Stage. For Mom.
The Artistic Team for HAPPY DAYS includes Marie Kohler (Director); Laura Gordon* (Winnie); Todd Denning* (Willie); Veronica Zahn* (Stage Manager); Bailey Wegner (Assistant Stage Manager); Anthony Lyons (Technical Director); Marisa Abbott (Lighting Designer); Lisa Schlenker~ (Scenic Designer); Jordan Stanek (Props Master); Josh Schmidt~ (Sound Designer); Colin Kovarik (Associate Sound Designer); Misti Bradford~ (Costume Designer); and Jayne-Regan Pink (Movement Coach).
* Member of Actors’ Equity Association
~ Member of United Scenic Artists Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees
Tickets for HAPPY DAYS may be purchased through the Broadway Theatre Center Box Office (158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202, (414) 291-7800 or www.r-t-w.com).
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