A Vibrant 'Happy Birthday'

Revival of Vonnegut's play features fine acting & comic timing

By Jana J. Monji

A quirky twist of fate connects a little girl, Wanda June (Danyel Crawford), with an adventurer. Her perky spirit and some ghostly companions offer sprightly commentary on the state of the living.

Vibrant performances and fine comic timing make this Thrill Ride/Whyaduck Productions and Page Ninety-Three production at the Elephant Theatre a well-groomed revival of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s 1970 play ''Happy Birthday, Wanda June.'' Harold (Tom Dugan) disappeared years ago. His son, Paul (Scotty Hauser), anxiously awaits his return, but Harold's wife, Penelope (Linda Bates), is about to choose between a peace-loving doctor (Jon Lee Cope) and a nerdish vacuum salesman (David Alex Rosen).

With the twitchy Col. Harper (Mitchell Holden) in tow, Harold returns--an Odysseus expecting a patient and loyal Penelope. Instead, he finds a world transformed. Director Robert B. Weide, who has recently completed a documentary on Vonnegut, skillfully balances the dark comedy with the more serious elements.

With his big booming voice and macho posturing, Dugan's Harold seems confined by the burnt orange walls of Burris Jackes' set design. The varied trophies beckon him away--to the killing fields, because Harold is a destroyer. He has little use for loving familial relationships, as his disillusioned son learns.

In contrast, the dead Nazi officer (David Holladay), whom Harold killed during World War II, seems utterly more civilized and socially acceptable than Dugan's man of action.

It's a timely reminder of how the world has changed and how some battlefield heroes may be unfit for civilian life.

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