What follows is the first of what we hope to be a series of many dispatches from inside the rehearsal process for Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, written by the show’s director (and Cal Shakes’ Artistic Director) Jonathan Moscone.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
We’re nearing the end of our first week of rehearsals for Happy Days—Marsha Mason, Dan Hiatt, and I, and it is already one amazing journey. Never have I encountered such a play. Still slightly blurry in my eyes, I am starting to see some clarity in this monumental piece—where the humor comes from, where the pain comes from, what it all means. I mean, here’s a woman literally buried to her waist in earth. And then up to her neck. Wow. Forget the metaphorical significance, there she is. In earth. Not many plays set themselves up with such a scenario. Beckett blows my mind, and I think he’s blowing Marsha’s and Dan’s minds, too, let alone those of our fabulous and funny dramaturg Philippa Kelly and super assistant director, Dan.
So little happens. And yet so much happens. It’s dire, the situation, but there is so much humor. It seems way out there, but really, it’s right in here, in the heart and the mind. That is what is striking me the most—how real the piece is. How not “out there” it is. I keep seeing my mom, friends, myself in this play—being formed by the past, “deformed” as Beckett put it, by the past. It’s in us, under us, and we are in it, even in the present. And what do we make of it all. How do we not sink under the weight of it all. How do we make light of the dark, laugh and take joy in living even when it seems like a string of days, world without end.
That’s what Beckett is asking us to discover and deliver. And in Marsha I find such humanity, such guts, such heart, such love, such humor, that I marvel at her in these first few days. And the connection she and Dan are making as husband and wife—she stuck in the mound, he lying almost against the mound reading the daily paper, making very funny, very bawdy, off-handed remarks—is proving to be the key to our understanding, to our opening up of this play.
I love it. I am terrified of it. How do we make it work theatrically? Beckett does a lot by giving us the circumstances of a lifetime, but how does it play out?
Tomorrow, we begin putting it on its feet and figuring it out in space. It’s daunting and I cannot wait to get in there, past the table work where we read and talk, read and imagine, read and question. Tomorrow, she gets in our rehearsal version of the mound, and we start to see how to play it all.