Lea DeLaria to Play Winnie in Beckett's Happy Days Off-Broadway

News   Lea DeLaria to Play Winnie in Beckett's Happy Days Off-Broadway It may be the most audacious bit of casting to come along in years. Lea DeLaria, the brash comedienne and cabaret singer who has shown herself adept as musical comedy (On the Town) and comedy (The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told), will play Winnie in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days.
Lea DeLaria
Lea DeLaria

The Worth Street Theatre production will play Off-Broadway in spring 2004. Worth artistic director Jeff Cohen will direct.

Winnie is one of the most challenging dramatic roles in the canon of modern drama. Though a secondary character, Winnie's husband Willie, has a few lines, Happy Days is basically a two-act monologue. Winnie begins the play buried waist-high in a mound of dirt, while chirping on about memories, small joys and the glorious gift that is life. By act two, the earth has climbed to her chin, though Winnie's spirits have flagged only slightly.

The role is typically attempted by established dramatic actresses late in their careers. Estelle Parson, Charlotte Rae, Olympia Dukakis and Ruth Maleczech are some of the American actresses who have attempted it in recent years.

Along with Waiting for Godot, Endgame and Krapp's Last Tape, Happy Days is considered one of Beckett's four major dramatic works.

* During 2003-04, the Worth Street Theatre Company, the Drama Desk Award-winning Off-Broadway company that gave New York Christopher Shinn's Four and the unique post-9/11 Stage Door Canteen, will also stage a revival of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart.

For the revival, the company will take up residence at The Public Theater, which first produced the play 20 years ago, in early 2004 (probably February), said Worth Street producer Carol Fineman. Jeff Cohen, Worth Street artistic director, will direct the drama, one of the first plays about the emergence of AIDS — and the anger, frustration and fear surrounding it.

Casting and design team information is not yet announced, and it's not yet known which venue inside The Public will house the play. Public subscribers will likely be offered the show as a special add-on, but the staging is technically independent of The Public season.

The play ran a year at The Public after its debut in 1985.

The lack of response by politicians and the media is addressed in the angry, visceral drama about Ned Weeks and his circle of friends. Writer and AIDS activist Kramer told Variety that if people screamed as much about AIDS in its early years as they are about the flu-like SARS today, "It is a plague that never need have happened."

The action of the play takes place between July 1981 and May 1984, making it a period piece before "Will and Grace," before domestic partner benefits and before powerful drugs were developed to suppress HIV and prolong the lives of those infected. The disease is now an international epidemic.

In the original production, Brad Davis created the role of crusader Ned Weeks, and Joel Grey later took over the part.

The third show in the Worth Street season is the world premiere of The Moonlight Room, a play by Tristine Skyler.