Let me warn inveterate TV viewers -- Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days" has no relationship to ABC's sitcom of the same name. So better not wait for the Fonz to make his appearance. Not that it wouldn't have livened things up a bit. . . .
Great Performances' "Happy Days" (PBS, Wednesday, 8-9:30 p.m., check local listings) is, like most of Samuel Beckett's work, a comedy on the outside with hidden meaning on the inside. In an introduction, the New York Shakespeare Festival's Joseph Papp, who is responsible for this absurdist tour de force, says it would take the comic talent of a Chaplin and a Keaton, the dramatic talent of an Olivier, to make the play work.
Well, try as she may, great actress that she is, Irene Worth seems to have gotten things just a bit confused -- she's placed the comedy on the inside and the hidden meaning on the outside. (No, I won't repeat that.)
The 90-minute nonstop chatter by a seeming "shopping bag" lady named Winnie, buried up to her waist and then her neck in a hilltop, talking to her mostly offstage husband about the joys of life (one woman's eternally optimistic view of life, the press release says), was produced for the theater by Mr. Papp, directed for the theater by Andrei Serban, and produced and directed for TV by David Healy. Maybe it just doesn't translate well.
At the risk of being called a Philistine, I must admit that the greatest emotion I felt during this the 90-minute marathon babble was a marvelous feeling of accomplishment at the end. Like Winnie, I had survived.