How are we to approach "Happy Days," Samuel Beckett's desolate meditation on life? The absurdity and the whimsy of a woman sinking deeper into a mound of dirt until only her head shows might invite a comic spoof, as if to say Beckett can't possibly be serious — things can't be this bad.

He is serious, though, this guy who once mused that we are born "astride of a grave." Do not, though, consider "Happy Days," which opened Friday in a fine production at Open Eye Figure Theatre, to be a hopeless essay. Actors Amy Warner and Michael Sommers express in this ridiculous drama a human need for companionship.

How often can we feel buried in the graveyard of our own lives? Beckett is saying that if you must be stuck in this world, find someone who cares about you — and about whom you can care.

Under Michael Evan Haney's direction, Warner's Winnie insists on optimism — against horrible circumstances. She's buried to her waist when the alarm wakes her at the beginning of the play. "Oh, heavenly day," she proclaims, and then finds utility in the patterns of brushing her teeth, putting on lipstick and positioning her hat just so.

In routine, she is reminded that she is alive. "No better, no worse, no pain, the same," she declares in a line that feels lifted directly from the Minnesota lexicon: "Oh, can't complain" or its corollary, "Things could be worse."

The temptation in many productions is to lampoon Winnie, turn her into a clown, get some laughs going. Warner — whom you might have seen playing Cate Blanchett's mother-in-law in the film "Carol" — portrays Winnie with enough realism to convince us that we occupy her universe.

She is by no means dour. This Winnie exults, despairs, pleads for conversation with her laconic husband, Willie. She is animated and determined to hold onto whatever degree of humanity she has remaining — all while appearing to be the picture of vulnerability.

She demands that we care, that we consider Winnie's nobility and understand her on her terms. And even if you cannot muster enough attachment to care for her, she forces us to listen and become a witness to her life. We are not allowed to hold the jester at a distance and laugh.

Sommers plays Willie as a spidery man who says little and prefers to hide behind the mound in which Winnie is buried. When he does speak or scrabble around on all fours, he does so with a matter-of-fact urgency, as paradoxical as that sounds.

As we see this world through Winnie's eyes, it matters less what Willie says and more that he simply is there for her.

"Happy Days" has been considered a view of a woman's life. Haney's production gets at the dichotomy of the stuck-in-the-ground Winnie and the ambulatory but feckless Willie.

This is a thinking person's play that has driven many, many people screaming for the exits over its long life. That's too bad, because Beckett offers a prescription for existence's mundanity. He suggests that we must endure, no matter the circumstances, because we have no alternative.

Given our wild modern world — in which absurdity seems to have taken the upper hand — Beckett's message is worth considering. • 612-673-7299 • Twitter: @graydonroyce