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Zephyr Teachout is Winnie in the Unadilla Theatre production of Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days.”
Photo: Jim Lowe / Staff Photo

Theater Review: Finding optimism in pessimism

MARSHFIELD — Despite the fact that she — and likely her husband — is being swallowed up by the earth, Winnie is optimistic.

“Ah, well, what matter, that’s what I always say, it will have been a happy day, another happy day,” she says.

Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” has been described as everything from bad performance art to an allegory for life, but in Unadilla Theatre’s hands it’s very human.

Beckett, best known for his classic “Waiting for Godot,” is considered one of the creators of Theater of the Absurd, but his 1961 classic “Happy Days” isn’t quite absurd — unless, of course, life is absurd.

Winnie, up to her waist in sand in a sun-scorched world, is having a good day, even better when her husband, Willie, deigns to answer her. Her running commentary seems to reflect every thought going through her head in a stream of consciousness — from the mundane of brushing her teeth to her grand philosophy of life.

In the Unadilla production, Zephyr Teachout, a law professor by day, is Winnie, and a fascinating one at that. Sounding something like a priggish Brit she expounds, holding nothing back. But with Teachout’s compelling performance, it’s impossible not to go along for the ride.

There is no finite and linear direction, but, as in Impressionist art and music, a picture is painted. But it is a moving picture.

Nearby, husband Willie, played by David Kahn, proves continually elusive, save for the very occasional reluctant responses to her continuous queries. She can seldom see him, and then only with difficulty. But she remains optimistic.

As Winnie is enveloped up to her neck, everything is coming to an end — but it’s another happy day.

At Thursday’s opening night performance, Teachout truly brought Winnie to life and, despite Winnie’s incessant babble, created a truly sympathetic character — she is us.

The Unadilla production was complemented by a particularly effective “scorched earth” backdrop painted by Ellen Blachly.

Making concrete sense of “Happy Days” is difficult, if not pointless. Conversely, experiencing this Beckett classic, like listening to a symphony or viewing a beautiful painting, can be a revelation — particularly with Unadilla’s fine production.

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