The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Happy Days opens on a stark, barren scene that is bathed in intense light. A low mound, which slopes gently toward the front, is center stage. Scorched grass extends across an unbroken plain to the distant horizon. The simplicity, the symmetry, and the blazing light draw attention to the only visible character, Winnie, a well-preserved woman of about fifty, who is buried in the mound to her waist. She is plump, buxom, and wears a low-cut dress. On one side of her, a large black shopping bag lies on the mound; on the other side rests a folded parasol. As the play begins, Winnie is leaning forward, asleep on her arms. Willie lies asleep on the ground, hidden from the audience’s view by the mound.

After a long pause, a piercing bell rings continuously for many seconds, but Winnie does not move. After another pause, the bell rings again, even more sharply than the first time, and Winnie awakes. She stares at the sky for a long time and then proclaims that it is “another heavenly day.” Winnie mumbles her prayers and then commands herself to begin the day.

Throughout the first act, Winnie removes a variety of objects from her bag. The first is her toothbrush. As she brushes her teeth, she tries to wake Willie, noting that his ability to sleep through the bell is a “marvelous gift.” While intermittently trying to decipher some small print that she notices on the handle of her toothbrush, Winnie cleans her glasses, awakens Willie by striking him with the parasol, kisses her revolver named Brownie, drinks a bottle of red medicine, and tosses the emptied bottle behind the mound. The bottle apparently strikes Willie, for the top of his bloodied, bald head appears behind the mound.

Awake, but only partially visible, Willie interjects phrases from newspaper headlines, obituaries, and want ads into Winnie’s rambling memories of their youth. With the help of her magnifying glass, Winnie finally deciphers the words on her toothbrush handle—“Fully guaranteed . . . genuine pure . . . hog’s setae”—and happily proclaims that “not a day goes by . . . without some addition to one’s knowledge,” then thoughtfully adds that even if such were no longer the case, one could “just close the eyes . . . and wait for . . . the...

(The entire section is 927 words.)