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Reviewed by:
  • The Beckett Festival
  • Bevya Rosten
The Beckett Festival. Gate Theatre, Dublin. The Lincoln Center Festival. 29 July-6 August 1996.

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Figure 1.

Winnie (Rosaleen Linehan) in the Gate Theatre of Dublin’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, directed by Karel Reisz. 1996 Lincoln Center Festival, New York City. Photo: Tom Lawlor.

Beckett’s nineteen stage works were performed by members of Ireland’s Gate Theatre at the Lincoln Center Festival this past summer in “canonical form as approved by the Beckett estate,” the press release tellingly stated. The works were staged by directors from France, England, Poland, Germany, and Ireland, most of whom had had extensive previous association with either Beckett or his work. The works presented included the well-known Waiting for Godot and Endgame as well as lesser known ones such as Play, What Where, and Catastrophe.

Despite the cautionary notes regarding canonical fidelity, the productions that succeeded best were the ones that were directed, rather than the ones that were only “faithfully” staged—although there was the odd production which was over-directed, as could be seen in the triple-bill that included Ohio Impromptu, Rough for Theatre II, and Catastrophe, over-conceptualized by French director Pierre Chabert.

Two productions with female characters at their centers proved extraordinary: the twenty-five-minute Footfalls, which opened the festival on a shared bill with Rough for Theatre I and Rockabye, directed by Irish director Ben Barnes, and the full-length Happy Days, directed by the Czech-born director, Karel Reisz, better known in this country for his British films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The French Lieutenant’s Woman. That success was due in large part to the actresses featured in each production—Susan Fitzgerald as May in Footfalls and Rosaleen Linehan as Winnie in Happy Days.

In Footfalls, May paces in the darkness to the sound of a metronome as her mother’s disembodied voice on tape commands her actions. Fitzgerald’s woeful whisper, her heavy footsteps, the roar of a wave and the sound of a triangle—perhaps the loneliest instrument in the orchestra—resounded as the lights rose upon her pacing back and forth upon a thin slab in front of a black curtain (an area usually defined only by light). “Mother,” she called, “Mother,” in a world-weary voice as her feet fell more heavily on the ground, lulling to a drag; at one moment her voice was amplified and the thin echo made her recede further into the distance of nothingness. By the end, although we still see May, she is subsumed by her mother’s relentless voice (recorded by Joan O’Hara). Fitzgerald was particularly powerful in her ability to vocalize the soul’s angst through the musicality of her world-weary voice.

Happy Days opened with a blue-lit scrim, behind which was revealed a desert-like environment of reddish sand in front of a blue cyclorama, splendidly designed by Tim Hatley, giving the sense that the sky was enveloping the earth. Linehan’s Winnie, powdered excessively in almost clown-like fashion, rattled away, pulling “props” of survival from her purse—lipstick, nailfile, toothbrush, etc. Her frustrated sensuality and élan vital seemed to be bursting through her earthy verbiage. She veered from “glamma girl,” to spurned wife, to disillusioned woman, exploring identities which might give her life meaning. As the play ended, her aged and almost lifeless husband Willie crawled towards her, prostrate with pain and impotence, reaching his hand out towards her in desperation.

The production was a tour-de-force for Linehan. She was funny and poignant, blinking artificial eyelashes more truthfully than most actors walk across the stage, thereby conveying the most profound and varied degrees of fear and hope within each theatrical moment. Her ability to tap the complex emotional life of the character was matched by her technical skill. Karel Reisz’s deft directorial hand elicited the subtleties underneath Winnie’s prattle and provided a rhythmic appropriateness to the play’s fine scoring.

Other notable productions included Krapp’s Last Tape, directed by Irish director Pat Laffan, which was “canonical” but rich, thanks...

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