"If you insist on finding form (for my plays), I'll describe it for you," Samuel Beckett once wrote Harold Pinter. "I was in hospital once. There was a man in another ward, dying of throat cancer. In the silences, I could hear his screams continually. That's the only kind of form my work has."
In "Happy Days," the scream comes from Winnie, almost alone, almost dead, yet, at the same time, one of the most alive of Beckett characters. Her world is one of Beckett's most complete and direct images: She, buried up to her chest in earth, on which only tiny flecks of grass and tinier insects may still live; Willie, her husband, separated from yet near her, dropping in and out of sight. Winnie, though, has her memories.
Angela Paton plays Winnie on the Saturday matinee and Sunday performances at the Los Angeles Theatre Center opposite Martin Beck's Willie. She comes close to bringing those memories alive. She is physically perfect--pudgy, buxom, a little housewifely--exactly what Beckett ordered. She also captures Winnie's desire to find in this wasteland without end "another happy day," while suggesting, ever so subtly, that Winnie's happiest days are behind her.
What she hasn't snared are the rhythmic interpolations of the text--the drama in the comma. A phrase like, " . . . take pains, or close the eyes . . . " comes on too fast, yet others, like "No better/No worse/No change/No pain" are just right. In every pause comes the question: Is Winnie coming closer to realization? To death? To both?
Act II finds her buried up to her neck and more focused. The tensions are acute, and Beckett's orchestration of words painfully felt, even as Paton somehow suggests that Winnie is beginning to feel numb. It is a performance of contrasts, but director Alan Mandell and Paton may have calculated the contrasts too much for Winnie's changeless world.
Remaining performances at 514 S. Spring St. are Saturday 2 p.m. and Sunday, 8 p.m. (213) 627-5599.
Poor Arthur Wicksteed: Settling into decrepit late middle years, wife Muriel (Sandra Kinder) wasting on the vine, daughter Constance (Ferrell Marshall) a hag before her time, and son Dennis (Nick DeGruccio) such a wimp as to make Woody Allen's Fielding Mellisch a Sly Stallone by comparison. Ah, but when Arthur's loins are set aflame when Felicity (Therese Lentz) enters the household . . . Welcome to Alan Bennett's "Habeas Corpus," at the Colony Studio Theatre, in which sex drives these Brits batty.
This is the territory of "No Sex, Please, We're British" and all the "Carry On" movies where the lure of Eros friskily hooks the most repressed bunch of dolts you've ever crossed paths with. Though this reviewer was late to Sunday's performance, it was immediately clear that everyone in this stupendously sexist and strangely Puritanical comedy is seducer, seducee or both. Bennett's romp of mixed identities and exposed hypocrites shows its age (the '60s) in its haranguing against The Establishment's repression of the Id.
The performances comes through loud and clear: Allan Jordan's Arthur, Kinder, DeGruccio, Marshall, and Don Woodruff--that's right, Don Woodruff--as the monstrous Lady Rumpers become modern Hogarthian characters before our eyes. Ross Clark has directed rhythmically and well, though we'd like more of a set from John Thomas Clark. This is a play, after all, about the filthy rich.
Performances at 1944 Riverside Drive (behind Dodger Stadium) are Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m. (in repertory with "Hobson's Choice") until Dec. 7 (213)667-9851.
Daria Okugawa's and Richard Haxton's "Rapprochement," first of this quartet of performance pieces at Pipeline's Boyd Street Theatre, relies on the primal conflict of differing sensibilities.
They play off each other's improvised vocal and physical patterns as if the twitch of an elbow or thrust of a pelvis could equal a sentence, or paragraph full of ideas. When this happens, the piece works; when it doesn't (about half the time), it's an exercise.
"Whose Space Is It Anyway?" is dancer Betty Nash's and tuba player Bill Roper's fable about the bruising, bloody competition between artists, when each must practice in the same room. It's the best idea of the evening, but because Nash and Roper can't act to save their lives (and despite Roper's remarkable proclivity with the tuba and Sousaphone), it's also the evening's slightest work.
"Snapshots," performed by the a capella group, The Blenders (alto Sigute Mikutaitis, mezzo-soprano Janice Purnell, soprano Nijole Sparkis), consists of five unintroduced tunes from various eras (The Supremes and the Andrews Sisters among them) played in mini-scenes that add a touch of theater to the tunes. The trio's voicings have yet to balance and blend in the best a capella tradition, and the dramatics didn't always achieve the intended effect.
Brad Stoller's and Riccardo Morrison's "Dream Talk--Waterwalk," on the other hand, makes you want to see more of this duo's specialty: Contact Improvisation, which mixes choreography and sculpted, rounded tumbling and rolling.
The text, alluding to the Chumash people and unnamed invaders, never gets in the way of our own imagined words and worlds filling in the blanks. The inspired Stoller and Morrison fulfill the evening's title, and remind you of rough and tumble boys who also know their Heidegger.
Performances are at 301 Boyd St., tonight and Saturday only, 8 p.m. (213) 629-2205.