Happy Days for Beckett Lovers and Monica Horan

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Timothy Durkin and Monica Horan in Happy Days. Photo by Grettel Cortes.


Monica Horan is best known for playing Amy in the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, co-created by her husband, Phil Rosenthal. These days, she’s fulfilling her theater-oriented side: She opens this weekend in the role of Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days at ISC Studio (Independent Shakespeare Company) in Atwater Village.

Because Beckett’s work often contains themes of confinement (in Happy Days, Winnie is stuck in sand), it will close out the Conference of the Samuel Beckett Society, Beckett and Justice, on June 8. It will also be performed at the California Institution for Men (CIM), a state prison in Chino, through Cal State LA’s Prison Graduation Initiative.

Cal State LA’s Prison Graduation Initiative. Photo by Manuela Dalle.

Horan notes, “Since Waiting for Godot, Beckett has resonated with people who are incarcerated. He had lost people to the Nazis and did what he called ‘Boy Scout stuff’ for the French Resistance: creating false documents, photographing them and delivering them in cigarette packages. My husband’s grandmother was a German Jew who got out with false papers. I’ve always wondered if Beckett was a part of that, and feel a very deep connection to him and to this play.”

After seeing a production of Happy Days with Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub, Horan was inspired to play Winnie. She reconnected with two friends: Tim Durkin, who in 1986 shared the stage with her in the play where she first caught the attention of her future husband, and Rob Weiner, who directed that play. Durkin played Willie; Weiner, who lives in Texas, acted as director and guide to Beckett.

Partners in the project are Melissa Chalsma, artistic director of Independent Shakespeare Company; Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, Professor of English at California State University, Los Angeles and faculty director of Cal State LA’s Prison Graduation Initiative at Lancaster State Prison and California Institute for Women in Chino; and Dr. Katherine Weiss, Associate Dean, College of Arts & Letters, Cal State LA and chair of this year’s Beckett Society Conference.


Chalsma notes, “Beckett is one of the most influential figures of theater and literature in the world. He helped define many of the storytelling modes we are now used to, exploring abstraction and absurdism. He also masterfully interweaves comedy and tragedy, horror and empathy, pathos and lightness. In this way, his work reminds me a great deal of Shakespeare’s: an ability to portray the sweep of human experience in the same play, and even in the same moment.”

Roy, who runs the first in-person bachelor’s degree completion program for incarcerated students in California, says, “I think Beckett’s work can help people conceive of incarceration and prison in broader, more philosophical, ways than how it can sometimes be framed in the US: in this respect, Beckett has a compelling connection with prison activist organizations, like [Roy’s own program] WordsUncaged, that are trying to reimagine understandings of what prison is and who is in prison.”

So far, 40 people have graduated through the program, with 100% non-recidivism. All earn English Communications degrees.

Weiss points out, “Beckett’s theater, like all theater, is open for social statements and activism. However, Beckett’s works aren’t protest pieces. It’s important for us to acknowledge that they are often defamiliarizing and, as some might say, absurd. What his work captures, though, is what confinement and powerlessness can feel like.

It’s interesting that both [Waiting for Godot and Happy Days] speak to confinement, but in both the characters are out in the elements; the characters are unhoused, and, for Angelenos, they remind us that those living in tents, encampments, and the streets are human; they are our neighbors!”

Melissa Chalsma points out, “Like many great plays, Happy Days allows for audience members to create their own relationship and understanding of the material. Samuel Beckett was not a didactic writer, in the sense that he isn’t telling us what to think. My takeaway from the play is about perseverance, and the human trait of trying to find a way through grave circumstances. That seems an important takeaway in any era, but perhaps especially the one we are in now.”

Horan adds, “From the beginning of time, art has been a tool for humanity and a necessity in human existence. The only thing that changes is the monetary or societal value. Art is just an expression of life and humanity.”

Happy Days runs through June 8 at the ISC Studio, 3191 Casitas Ave. in Atwater Village. Show times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm; Sundays at 2:00pm. On May 24 and May 31, stay for a post-show “Friday Night Drama Club” discussion with the cast and Katherine Weiss, PhD, of the Samuel Beckett Society and Associate Dean, College of Arts & Letters, Cal State LA. Tickets  are $27.50-$47.50, students $20, and are available at www.iscla.org.

The Ninth Annual Conference of the Samuel Beckett Society: Beckett and Justice, hosted by the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA in partnership with UCLA is open to the public. It is on the campus of Cal State LA from June 6-8. For details, see beckettandjustice.com.

Laura Foti Cohen

Laura Foti Cohen has been reviewing theatre prolifically for five years at the Larchmont Buzz, a local Hancock Park-area website and email newsletter. She’s a playwright herself; her plays have been produced by NEO Ensemble Theatre. She's a new member of Theatre West.

Laura Foti Cohen

Laura Foti Cohen has been reviewing theatre prolifically for five years at the Larchmont Buzz, a local Hancock Park-area website and email newsletter. She’s a playwright herself; her plays have been produced by NEO Ensemble Theatre. She's a new member of Theatre West.

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