The Bluebirds are back! Oh Happy Day! Other birds are back too, but the Bluebirds are first and maybe it is their color that lifts my spirits… that bright blue after the somber palette of a winter without enough snow.Here at nearly 9,000 feet, distant from any city of size, this week’s Equinox sky was a solid black curtain on to which gold foil stars were pinned.
Just one more thought about my London trip before we move on to the Gulf Coast.
Preparing for my London trip, I was very keen to be on my own. I travelled on my own and refrained from staying with friends or making definite plans to see anyone. I was quite determined to live an un-scheduled life – a life without any obligations to anyone.
And so I did. Other than my weekly writing group, each day unwound like thread on a dropped spool. I had a list of places that I wanted to re-visit on my sentimental journey, but lingering over my morning coffee, the list was less of a list and more of a notion that I might or might not follow.
So I got my wish. I was alone. I was on my own. And yet… there was something missing.
And then the night before I returned to Colorado, I joined friends at The Young Vic where I saw Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days.
It was a fabulous production with Juliet Stevenson as the main player in what is ostensibly a monologue. The set was fabulous – the stage was bare except for two, limestone uplifts. Between the two rock faces there was a crevice filled with scree. Winnie, the main character, was buried up to her waist in the scree.
The play opens with what feels like a sonic boom, and everyone in the audience jumps. Hands fly to the face… hands cover ears. As the lights – a scorching sun- comes up, we see Winnie – her hair and makeup are perfect. She looks up at the sun, smiles at another dawning, and trills, “Oh, happy day!”
From time to time Winnie calls out to the guy whom we assume is her husband. We do not see him; we only hear his voice as he periodically answers in a word or two. Winnie might ask, “Willie! Do you think it might rain today?” Willie does not answer. Winnie calls more loudly. Maybe on the third call, Willie answers, “No.” He is not much for conversation but given the circumstances…
As Act I progresses, despite the odds, Winnie remains optimistic. Nearby, she has a sizeable purse. In it, she has makeup, a toothbrush, a music box and an umbrella to shelter her from the sun. As she rummages in her purse, these items give her occasion to say, “Oh, happy day!” Finally, as Willie crawls out from scree that we cannot see, we meet the man behind the voice. He does not have an umbrella and his skin is bright red and covered with blisters. We see that Willie is in very poor shape, and then he crawls out of sight. Scree trickles down throughout the first act. The sound is unnerving. Winnie’s umbrella spontaneously catches fire.
When Act II opens, more scree has fallen and Winnie is now buried up to her neck. Her face is ashen. She looks near death. She continues to call out to Willie, but there is no answer. Finally, Winnie faces the truth that her husband has died. The play ends when Winnie succumbs.
The play is anything but happy. But the Juliet Stevenson was fabulous, and I loved the setting – a metaphor for the ravages of geological time. We can force happiness in the face of decay, but we cannot stop the clock. We will age. We will die, and no degree of good-cheer can stop the tides or time.
As for my recent solo trip to London, Happy Days was a revelation. As much as I enjoyed London, there was something… something missing. Just what that something was did not come to me until I saw the play: you can be content on your own, but you are only happy when you can share your experiences with another person. Next time that I travel, I will not travel alone.
I’m off to the Gulf Coast of Texas. I travel with my husband.