Written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Directed by Jeffrey Wise
The Duke on 42nd Street
October 18 - November 29, 2018
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE takes a searing and darkly comedic look at American culture through the brilliantly perverse lens of Kurt Vonnegut. After being presumed dead for eight years, respected war veteran and big game hunter, Harold Ryan, returns home and brings with him an old way of thinking, celebrating a Hemingway-esque machismo and American exceptionalism. Harold soon discovers that the society he returns to has made attempts to progress into a more modern, enlightened cultural narrative. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE is a dynamic and often hilarious meditation on toxic masculinity and a capitalistic America's failed attempts at progress cloaked in honor and morality. Simply put, and as the first few lines of the play state, this is a play about men who enjoy killing, and those who don't.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s shaggy but zingingly relevant comedy Happy Birthday, Wanda June, now getting a ferociously funny revival from Wheelhouse Theater Company... The current president, who seems to cherish the very myth of manhood that Harold embodies, is the unacknowledged echo in the room through the whole performance. But here that echo is deeper, and it arrives with a pang of sympathy.
Kurt Vonnegut’s 1970 play, about a chauvinist blowhard aggressively clinging to antiquated social mores, has found its moment... Rarely has surrealist gallows humor been so adroitly deployed in the service of social criticism.
If there is an afterlife, I hope Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., has had the opportunity to look down and watch the Wheelhouse Theater Company's excellent production of his hilarious, incisive farce, Happy Birthday, Wanda June (directed by Jeff Wise with vitality, creativity, and respect). I'm sure Vonnegut would be thrilled with the show, although he would likely also be depressed at how timely it remains.
This darkly comic, often absurd and evocative play keeps the laughs coming while never letting its audience forget the bitter and ugly disparity between old-world misogynist machismo and new-age enlightened, sensitive yet sometimes impotent masculinity.
It pleases me no end to report that the actors assembled on stage of the Gene Frankel Theatre do not disappoint, especially in the performance by Jason O’Connell in the leading role of Harold Ryan. He is enough to see the show all on its own.
Author: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Director: Jeffrey Wise
Scenic Design: Brittany Vasta
Lighting Design: Drew Florida
Costume Design: Christopher Metzger
Sound Design: Mark Van Hare
Production Stage Manager: Paula R. Clarkson
Assistant Stage Manager: David Kenner
General Management: Visceral Entertainment – Michael Chase Gosselin, Tim Sulka
Production Manager: Drew Francis
Press Representative: Daniel Demello
Casting Director: Nora Brennan, CSA
Wheelhouse Theater Company: Matt Harrington, David Kenner, Michael Schantz, Jeffrey Wise
Cast: Craig Wesley Divino, Finn Faulconer, Matt Harrington, Kareem Lucas, Kate MacCluggage, Jason O’Connell, Charlotte Wise, Brie Zimmer
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