Nearly two years ago, Monica Horan, an American actor famous for her role as Amy in sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, and Rob Weiner, former associate director at Chinati Foundation, submerged themselves in Happy Days. Weiner directed Horan (Winnie) and Tim Durkin (Willie) in a process of discovery – their rehearsals – over Zoom and then in person in Marfa, Texas. After returning from Marfa, Horan attended IrelandWeek, an annual weeklong event in Los Angeles celebrating the arts, sports and tech industries in modern Ireland. It was at at that event’s Beckett Symposium, where Horan first introduced herself to the scholar Katherine Weiss. Excited to share her Winnie with an audience, Horan co-produced a workshop production with the Independent Shakespeare Company in Los Angeles and invited Weiss to take part in a series of talkbacks with the audience.
On 2 December 2022, Horan and Weiner agreed to be interviewed by Weiss for The Beckett Circle in what turned out to be a rich conversation ‘full of discovery, intimacy and laughter’. Below we give a very brief flavour of that interview as a taster for the longer version which will appear in the enxt issue of the publication which will be available on-line next week to all Samuel Beckett Society members.
Katherine Weiss [KW]: I’m interested in the process and the play moving along as a process. I’m not coming at this, or I hope to not be coming at this, as seeing the performance as something that doesn’t have any more movement to it, doesn’t have any more process and evolution to it. I’m very much process-based.
Monica Horan [MH]: When Tim Durkin and I finally got to work with Rob ‘in person’ in Marfa, I discovered through conversations with him and Tim Crowley, that, at the Crowley Theatres, the rehearsal itself was almost the primary goal. It’s all about the process, rather than producing a typical ‘run’ of a play. The lack of any real deadline was a gift – without that freedom to explore and delve into deep personal dramaturgy, I don’t know if I would have ever gotten this play into my bones the way I feel I have. I had the time to really explore what was happening to these two people throughout the course of the play, and I had time to develop a passion for learning about Beckett the man and the playwright. Early on in our work together, Rob introduced me to the books No Author Better Served, Alan Schneider’s memoir Entrances and James Knowlson’s biography of Beckett, Damned to Fame.
Then meeting you, Katherine, brought it to a whole new level of access to Beckett scholarship and research. And your willingness to participate in talkbacks at the Independent Shakespeare Company production, enabled us to share so much more with our eager-to-learn-more audiences. Having those insightful conversations after each performance allowed me to imagine another life for our Happy Days. I’d love to bring this production to universities and colleges with drama departments studying Beckett, and for this work and these insightful conversations to continue in some way. I’d also love to perform in festivals in the US and internationally – wherever people are interested in experiencing this piece and sharing about it.
KW: [Beckett] writes in a letter to [Alan] Schneider about Not I, that the play should work on the ‘nerves of the audience, not its intellect.’ Beckett didn’t really want the academic lens. He enjoyed actors who were willing to feel out the play. His aesthetic was different from yours, but not the response to it. One of the things he loved about Whitelaw was she didn’t ask him a bunch of interpretive questions. She just performed the written script, and she felt it. She talks about that with Alan Schneider, connecting Rockaby to her mother, in the 1982 documentary about the production. production.
MH: Rob and I were really moved by that documentary. And honestly, we’d had so many conversations that mirrored conversations between Billie Whitelaw and Alan Schneider – which made the whole experience feel completely ‘full circle.’
Rob Weiner [RW]: I think that Monica can answer, respond to, and actually meet the very precise demands that Beckett is asking for, and still be wholly herself as an actress to become Winnie. That was the goal. Monica had said after she started work at the Independent Shakespeare Company, ‘Now I’m really thinking about the audience.’ And I thought to myself (I wasn’t going to say this to her), but every question that got posed, every intervention or exploratory investigation, was to reveal something to both of us that we could both use to illuminate something essential about the play for the people that were watching it.
MH: Right. Very early on, I would be sitting in an upstairs room in my house, on a chair, with my legs tucked into an old dog crate that I used for my mound. I was positioned in front of my window, looking at the trees outside. Rob would say, ‘You’re going to be looking at people’s faces, you know.’ And I couldn’t even imagine it. That’s what made the LA production experience so important. The audience is a very important character in the play in many ways. ‘Someone is looking at me still.’
The leap for me, as an actor, was to be in the position where I’m in that mound, the curtain opens, and there is no turning back. I’d been imagining the theatre lights and the audience, but you can’t imagine jumping off the cliff and doing this piece from beginning.
The long version of this interview will be published in the forthcoming issue of The Beckett Circle.
Why not join the Samuel Beckett Society for access to news, offers and information on Beckett as well as access to the bi-annual Beckett Circle. More Information here.