We do this a lot in the theater—calm ourselves down.

The latest in an exciting series of 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.

Wednesday August 5, 2009

Today we braved a stumble-through. For those of you not familiar with the term, the “stumble-through” is the first time you run through the show from beginning to end without stopping. Since it’s the first time, everyone is given the relief of knowing it’s a stumble through—that a perfect run is not expected, so the pressure can go down.

We do this a lot in the theater—calm ourselves down.

But they did it. Act One, that is. The bear act. Winnie’s mind goes so many places and there is always a logic to it, even if it is subconscious, often in fact it is subconscious. She runs that way. She diverts from feelings and thoughts that allow the sadness to break in—so much of it for her. Stuck up to her diddies in the bleeding ground, as Beckett puts it. But beyond that, she has lost her past. Her physical connection to her beloved husband, Willie, who is now on the other side of the mound (physically and emotionally) is lost. Her youth, her beauty (in her opinion) is lost. But she remains optimistic. It could be worse, she says. “Ah yes many mercies, MANY mercies.” Even when it gets too tough for her to handle, she finds a way to make it funny—life, that is. And enjoyable. In fact, she makes it endlessly fascinating. Taking great interest and comfort in the tiniest of things (“things have their life!” she exclaims in Act Two when she can no longer reach for them, being as she is now up to her neck in the mound) Winnie finds hope.

Beckett is not about death. It’s about enduring. And in Winnie he finds his most enduring and heroic creature. Only a woman could play this part. In fact Beckett said that the only creature who could make life work in a mound was a woman. Resilient, rebounding, poetic, humorous, witty, and smart as heck, Winnie endures like no other woman I’ve ever encountered in theatrical literature. I love this character.

Patty was quite heroic today. It’s not easy for someone to be putting it out there, a lot of it alone. Talking to us, her unseen husband, to herself, to an ant, anything and anyone who will listen (for Winnie cannot bear to speak alone in such wilderness) Patty can feel pretty exposed. Dan even feels this, especially since he comes in only here and there, finding his timing and his actions only through sound since he does not look directly at Patty. And yet we are building to the best of our abilities a deep, connected relationship between the two. And Dan is really making that happen. It’s rare to see a Willie who is connected to his Winnie. Most of the time when he is gone from our sight, he is gone from our minds. But Dan is in rehearsal every single day, in his hole, listening and responding through breath and energy to Patty, who calls out for him almost every minute of the play. You can palpably feel his presence. It’s an amazing feat. I hope it does not go unsung because it is something to behold, and without it, Patty’s work would be far less dimensional, as would the production.

Dan Hiatt is seriously, THE MAN. He has always been one of my most favorite artists to work with, but he is out of this world in this. Many mercies. Many, many mercies.

Jon

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0 Responses to We do this a lot in the theater—calm ourselves down.

  1. >John – I'm very excited to be bringing Patty and Happy Days to Bangalore, India in December this year. I'm in the Bay Area this week through Sunday – and am so sorry that I will miss the show when it opens next week. I've seen Patty in this role before, and she is quite remarkable – and I'm sure even more so under your guidance. I know this is going to be a great production in spite of the last minute nerve-wracking changes. My very best wishes.Chandran Sankaranscsankaran@gmail.com

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