Twice-Told Tales

Is Winnie, the heroine of Happy Days, desperate to be somewhere else? Probably, but she'll never say so. Jammed up to her waist, and later up to her neck, in a mound of earth, under eternal blazing sunlight, awakened by some fierce cosmic alarm clock whenever she nods off, Winnie's the essence of denial. The light is holier to her than it was to Milton, and the repellent, unloving husband stuck in a burrow behind her mound is still the dear object of her recollections. What's really going on? Are Winnie and her Willie a metaphor for the falsity of a dead marriage, or a pair of souls trapped in purgatory, or the last survivors of some ecological holocaust? (Who knew that this play referred to the earth losing its atmosphere, or to anthrax?) Beckett's text implies all three, and more; the clues and allusions are packed as thickly as the earth around Winnie.

Joyce Aaron's Winnie, as directed by Joseph Chaikin, seems more snug in her mound than trapped there. Winnies come in all tonalities, and she's one of the dottier variety. For the text's frequent jumps into shreds of once familiar quotation, she's found a swoopy voice that suggests the heavy-bosomed, pretentious society matrons who made W.C. Fields's on-screen life such hell. Her regret for the past, her terror of the present and future, are feelings she's always ready to toss away in order to find the day happy. She's far too deep in her daydream to suffer from the gravity of her sinking situation; this is the first Winnie to evoke Emma Bovary. Other Winnies have been doughty, embittered, bawdy, appalled, or defiant; going on was always a struggle. Aaron's scarier precisely because she isn't struggling. Her Winnie's the almost contented queen of the hill, and she's damned if she'll let even a malign destiny take that away from her. She's damned, all right.

Kevin Isola as the Gryphon of Dvolnek in The World Over: a wing and a player
photo: Joan Marcus
Kevin Isola as the Gryphon of Dvolnek in The World Over: a wing and a player


The World Over
By Keith Bunin
Playwrights Horizons/Duke
Broadway and 42nd Street

Happy Days
By Samuel Beckett
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street

The Goat
By Edward Albee
Golden Theatre
Broadway and 45th Street

A symmetrically opposite alteration has crept into Albee's The Goat with its new cast: Where Bill Pullman's Martin was too complacently in love with his quadruped to perceive his own wrongdoing, Bill Irwin's Martin is a discombobulated wreck. Let him try to pull himself together, and he instantly goes flapping in every direction, with voice and body both. You can see that Sally Field's Stevie, sweeter and more homebodyish than Mercedes Ruehl's, would almost be supportive of him, except that her own pain's too intense. Ruehl, who commands darker tones both vocally and emotionally, was more outraged at her husband's betrayal than anything else, an avenging Fury. Field's spunk is a cover-up for her hurt; she pours out the pathos of an Ophelia watching her Hamlet go nuts. Less disconcerting without the blissed-out eeriness Pullman brought to it, Albee's play is now more compassable, more domestic in its checkerboard of comedy and tragedy. The worry Irwin pours into the character lets Stephen Rowe and Jeffrey Carlson, now fully grown into their supporting roles, be appalled equals instead of horror-struck underlings. And the script, on rehearing, sounds even better; the audience rides Albee's startling tonal shifts with the attentive elation of champion surfers.

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