In celebration of the University of Toronto Mississauga’s 50th Anniversary, the campus’ Department of Language Studies hosted a performance of the play Happy Days, or Giorni Felici in Italian, to recognize the diversity and culture on campus and within the program. The event was held in the Isabel Bader Theatre and introduced by the chair of the language studies department, Emmanuel Nikiema. The play was performed in Italian with English subtitles, featuring actors Andrea Renzi and U of T alumna Nicoletta Braschi.
Written by avant-garde playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett, Happy Days is a piece in the tradition of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd.’ Absurdist works focus largely on ideas of existentialism and life without meaning or purpose, giving way to illogical speech and stretches of silence. Irrational monologue and long pauses is exactly what audience members experience from Winnie, the protagonist.
The lights of the theatre come up to reveal Winnie lying over a mound of presumably sand, which she is buried in up to the waist for the duration of the play. She is awoken by the sound of two piercing alarms, prompting her to begin her day with a prayer. At this moment, I notice the contrast between Winnie’s appearance and her surrounding. She has platinum blonde hair and is dressed in a sparkly, crisp white dress, while the two props onstage appear dirty and disheveled. Willie, her husband, is also remarkably different in appearance and mannerism. He is a brutish man wearing a tank top and straw hat, constantly coughing and scratching his back. Compared to Winnie’s outlandish speech and inability to move, Willie only utters out single words and crawls to get further away from her.
Winnie speaks continuously, despite no one listening to her. She constantly hums the refrain “Oh, this is a happy day,” to remind herself to never complain and always be thankful and in positive spirits. When she finds that her lipstick is running out, she becomes disappointed for a second only to brush it off as she will not allow herself to sadden. Winnie is the eternal optimist but the sources of her optimism, such as her lipstick, tonic, and old pearl necklace, are being used up. She has to work harder to keep up her positive front. By the end of the first act, she admits that the “sorrow keeps breaking in.”
In regard to Winnie and the play’s relevance to real-life, Aly Slater, a fourth year Italian and political science double major, says, “I think Winnie is overly dramatic but the play overall still represents reality for a lot of people. This is what their heightened moments and existential crises look like.”
As mentioned above, in marked comparison to Winnie’s lengthy speech, Willie is laconic to a point where he functions mainly as something for her to talk at. Winnie enjoys asking simple tasks of Willie like wiggling his fingers or trying to sing. When he barely obeys in wiggling “all five fingers” or dreadfully humming the song from her music box, she erupts into enthusiastic applause and merrily cheers her refrain.
The central metaphor of the play is clear: As Winnie sinks deeper into the mound of sand, she is also engulfed further into disappointment and her disillusions. Both of the characters’ existential conditions are visualized by how time becomes slower when the end is near. No matter Winnie’s attempts at staying optimistic, she grows weary of the ceaseless descent into a conclusion that never seems to come.
The next event in UTM’s Global Art50 series is a screening of Mobbing on October 16.