Dunnam Makes a Winsome Winnie in Wingspan's Happy Days

Long regarded as a commentary on the nuclear panic of the Cold War, Samuel Beckett's 1961 absurdist comedy Happy Days now seems more like a cartoon of a long, rotten marriage. Wingspan Theatre Company is doing the play right now at the Bath House. Director Susan Sargeant amps up the comedy and casts the fine actress Stephanie Dunnam in what amounts to a 90-minute monologue with a few minor interruptions.

There she stands, not-young wife Winnie (Dunnam), buried up to her armpits in a mound of earth (although on Rodney Dobbs' set it's more of a stair-stepped birthday cake of make-believe sand). Winnie babbles, rummages through her handbag, which contains a handgun along with various cosmetics, and natters away at her barely verbal husband Willie (Bill Jenkins). He crawls around like an insect, in and out of his hidey hole, sometimes thrown down hard by some heavy gravitational pull.

In the play's shorter second half, Winnie's buried up to her chin. "To be always what I am," she says, "and so changed from what I was." This is where Dunnam's acting skills really shine. What a marvelous face this woman has, what expressive eyes. She got laughs at the performance reviewed just in how perfectly she timed the pursing of her lips or the darting of her looks at Willie.

Bill Jenkins and Stephanie Dunnam in Wingspan Theatre's Happy Days
Lowell Sargeant
Bill Jenkins and Stephanie Dunnam in Wingspan Theatre's Happy Days

Winnie is one of classic theater's most challenging roles (all those choppy phrases and nonsense words) and the play is not done so often in Dallas theaters to make its return unwelcome. See it for Dunnam's performance, which is all the more impressive for being done mostly with her face and voice. Happy Days also makes for a nice evening's escapist entertainment if you're in a really boring marriage and, like Winnie, you've had it up to here.

 
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