Nicoletta Braschi and Andrea Renzi Perform “Happy Days” in Lisbon

Nicoletta Braschi and Andrea Renzi received a standing ovation for their rendering of Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” this weekend, to a packed audience in Lisbon, in a side-event of the Lisbon @ Estoril Film Festival. To my great regret, I did not manage to see it. In Beckett-like repetition, I tried twice to get to the play, and each time was blocked by traffic.

Nevertheless the famed Italian actress Nicoletta Braschi welcomed me to sit with her at breakfast to discuss it.

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With great exuberance, the engaging actress told me how she and Andrea (who is both the director and her husband “Willie” in the play) had worked years on the text, on each word.

“The text is so complex, so extraordinary,” she exclaimed. “We worked on every word, every space between the words.”

In Beckett’s Happy Days, Winnie is buried up to her waist in a mound of sand, carrying on a monologue about her daily existence, while her husband calls out–occasionally–from his newspaper.

“How do you interpret the philosophy of the play?” I asked. “What is your take on Beckett, and your character Winnie?”

I could intuit that hers would not be a gloomy take. It is impossible to see Nicoletta as an alienated, frozen Winnie, stumped by existence,as she is sometimes played. The actress exudes energy–and dare I say, happiness.

“Oh Beckett is not sad or despairing,” Nicoletta smiled radiantly. “He is showing life as it is. Happy Days is life. Life is like that. We are born here in conditions that just are and we face these conditions. For example, Winnie speaks in contradictions. ‘The sun is blazing today,’ is one of her lines. And a moment later, she says today there is no sun. This contradiction touches the reality of life: there is both one thing and the other. Winnie has great passion for life. She changes her ideas, she is very vital!”

One of Beckett’s famous lines in this play is: “Yes, something seems to have occurred, something has seemed to occur, and nothing has occurred, nothing at all.”

Even this line Nicoletta interpreted with its positive force. “A contradiction once more. Something has happened, or has it not,” she smiled. “It’s brilliant!”

Director Andrea Renzi came to our table, from the breakfast buffet, and affably joined the conversation.

“How do you see the meaning of this play?” I asked.

“It’s about dignity and resistance,” he said at once, with equal passion. “Yes there is a space–a breath–an abyss–between the words. But the characters look into this abyss. Remember the play begins with waking up! Each morning, the character wakes to give meaning to her life. Beckett’s characters are always going deeper into the conditions of their lives, and becoming more profound.”

The spirit of this interpretation was so exhilarating I regretted once more missing the play.

“Don’t worry!” Nicoletta touched my arm. “We will be playing in New York and in Canada and in Italy. You will have another chance! I’ll let you know our schedule!

I will take on the Beckett odds and persevere–and next time will not miss it!

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