This “Happy Days” isn’t based on the long-running 1970s TV sitcom with Fonzie and Richie. This is Samuel Beckett’s puzzling, apocalyptic 1960 drama where a middle-aged woman is inexplicably buried in a mound of earth but is determined to be as cheerful as possible.
This new Off-Broadway production, directed by Andrei Belgrader (“Doctor Faustus” at Classic Stage), stars real-life married couple Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub as married couple Winnie and Willie.
The existentialist play is essentially a rambling two-act monologue for Winnie, who goes through daily routines and searches through her handbag while Willie occasionally rises out of his hole to read the newspaper or reach for a gun.
In Act One, Winnie is only buried up to her waist. By Act Two, she is buried up to her neck, with no explanation provided for the change.
The Flea in TriBeCa is an appropriately intimate space for the play, with the audience hovering around Winnie’s mound.
Adams’ Winnie resembles a picture-perfect, old-fashioned homemaker. Her bleak surroundings are no match for her upbeat, can-do spirit. In contrast, Shalhoub is disheveled and helpless.
The play may have had shock value half a century ago, but it takes a heck of a lot of patience to sit through it today.
Theatergoers tend to either love or loathe Beckett. I’ve only sat through a single production of a Beckett play that didn’t bore me: the brilliant 2009 Broadway revival of “Waiting for Godot” with Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin and John Goodman.
If you’d like to see a two-hour play with no plot and little movement that is built around a single visual metaphor, be my guest.
If you go: “Happy Days” plays through July 18 at the Flea. 41 White St., theflea.org