Happy Days | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Happy Days, Hypocrites, at Stage Left Theatre. Hypocrites founder and director Sean Graney excels at creating vivid, satisfying productions of experimental plays popular a generation or more ago, like Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros and Sophie Treadwell's Machinal. Counterpointing cartoonish comic acting with moments of pure emotion, Graney makes up for the flaws in works full of interesting ideas but either under- or overwritten.

You'd think this mix of humor with pathos would be well suited to Samuel Beckett, but judging by the Hypocrites' production of Happy Days, Beckett is a less forgiving playwright than Ionesco or Treadwell. Donna McGough as Winnie copes well with the play's most incredible demand: the actor performs up to her waist in dirt in the first act and up to her neck in the second. But McGough hasn't quite mastered Beckett's Celtic gallows humor, delivering the comic lines either with too much sunniness, which robs them of their foreboding, or with a forced happiness cognizant of extreme sorrow, which turns her into a pitiable clown.

Graney has transformed characters into clowns before, but never has one of them seemed less funny or more at odds with the play's intent. Instead of inspiring angst or meditations on the plight of humanity, Graney's Happy Days merely makes us feel kind of sorry for Winnie.

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