Review: Happy Birthday, Wanda June


by Sandra Ross

Robert B. Weide’s swift direction invigorates Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s slightly musty 1970 play, which has been wisely staged as a period piece.

Homer’s The Odyssey is the launching point for Vonnegut’s dark comedy about a Great White Hunter, Harold Ryan (Tom Dugan), who suddenly reappears after seven and a half years in the jungle. Suitors are circling his wife, Penelope (Linda Bates), alienating the preteen son (Scotty Hauser) who worships the macho father he never really knew. Bragging about the number of animals and people he’s killed, Ryan has little use for his adoring son and even less for his skeptical wife. But where Vonnegut’s script veers towards the sentimental, Weide prudently emphasizes the dark comedy.

The comic timing of the ensemble is superb -- particularly David Alex Rosen and Jon Lee Cope’s suitors, a glad-handing vacuum cleaner salesman and a peacenik doctor, respectively -- and the technical elements first-rate, including Burris Jackes’ set design, Patty Malkin’s costume design and Peter Smith’s sound design.

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