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Happy Birthday, Wanda June by Kurt Vonnegut

Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1970)

by Kurt Vonnegut

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Vonnegut’s only play is about Harold Ryan, a hunter, soldier and all-around “man’s man.” He left his family a decade before the play begins to search for diamonds in the Amazon. He has since been declared dead and his wife and son have been trying to make a life for themselves without him. Penelope (aptly named because she waits 10 years for her husbands return) and her son Paul are shocked when Harold turns up on their doorstep.

No one is more surprised than the two men that Penelope has been dating: a vacuum salesman named Herb Shuttle and the peaceful doctor, Norbert Woodly. Penelope’s life is thrown into chaos with her husband’s return. His cruel and brash ways are ill suited for life outside the jungle.

The three-act play is soaked with Vonnegut’s trademark wit and sarcasm. It’s a harsh look at men who pride themselves as warriors vs. men who value peace. I had the opportunity to see it performed as a live reading at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library and then I read a hardcopy. It was interesting to note that the theatre company doing the reading chose to end the play in a different way than it ends in the book.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s not Vonnegut’s best work, but it’s hard to find and reading it back-to-back with a viewing of a live reading was such a treat. If you already love Vonnegut than read it if you have the chance! ( )
  bookworm12 | Apr 2, 2013 |
Happy Birthday, Wanda June is a play by Kurt Vonnegut, his take on Odysseus’ return to Penelope.

Penelope and her son Paul have been living on their own ever since her husband and his father, big game hunter Harold, left 10 years earlier and wasn’t heard of since. In the meantime Penelope has started dating two men, Herb Shuttle – a “manly man” much like her husband – and Norbert Woodly – a studied man and pacifist. But then Harold returns quite surprisingly.

Happy Birthday, Wanda June is a strange play that falls between the cracks a little bit. It feels completely surreal but it isn’t, not really. Despite that, or maybe because of it, I liked it a whole lot.

Read more on my blog: http://kalafudra.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/happy-birthday-wanda-june-kurt-vonnegu... ( )
  kalafudra | May 17, 2012 |
Happy Birthday, Wanda June, one of Vonnegut's few published attempts at drama, is a speedy read if not a terribly exciting one, a play populated by mostly flat and static characters but still capable, in the end, of having an interesting impact.

Based very loosely on the idea of the hero's return home after a long absence a la The Odyssey, the play centers on the "man's man" Harold Ryan, coming home after being presumed dead for years to a wife and son who barely recognize him. Penelope has romanced two men completely unlike the hunter, and the majority of the play consists of each character, completely resistant to change, attempting to make sense of a new life in which Harold is actually alive.

The play's themes of love, tenderness, and the obsolescence of war are a little too cloying at times to feel especially genuine, exposing the play as more a product of its time than anything else. In his introduction to the work, Vonnegut mentions that the play has no true villain and therefore no satisfying ending, which is to a certain degree a fault, but Harold is such a completely unlikable character that we are wholly convinced of his role in the good vs. evil and old school vs. new school binaries of the play. In fact, his (ever so slight) turn at the end is the only thing that really doesn't feel consistent, perhaps because it is the only real example of a character changing.

Despite the placidity of the characterizations, however, the play is humorously written and fun to read. The dialogue is lightning-quick, and the quirky self-awareness of the drama makes it feel lighthearted even as the tension continually rises. Scenes taking place in heaven intersperse the action, and make for a humorous aside in the play's closing moments, but otherwise don't feel quite as necessary or diverting as Vonnegut must have intended.

All told, the play hits and misses, as does most of Vonnegut's dramas (according to the master himself). Happy Birthday, Wanda June is by no means top-shelf Vonnegut, but it's certainly worth the time to read it if you can find it.
  dczapka | Jun 22, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0440534224, Paperback)

The zany, wildy inventive imagination of America's most popular novelist is devastatingly at work in his first play.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:51 -0400)

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