The 7th Sign and Jeffrey Schulman Productions
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE
By KURT VONNEGUT, Jr.
April 1 18, 2004
Directed by RACHEL CHAVKIN
Costumes KRISTEN SIEH
Lighting JAY STERKEL
Sets JESSE HATHAWAY DIAZ
Sound ALLEGRA LIBONATI, CRAIG STELZENMULLER
Stage Manager KATHARINE QUARRIER
Daniel Deferrari Dr. Norbert Woodly
Jill Frutkin Wanda June
Brian Hastert Major Siegfried Von Konigswald
Andrew Kahrl Herb Shuttle
Liz Parker Mildred
Shannon Riley Penelope Ryan
James M. Saidy Harold Ryan
Jake Thomas Colonel Looseleaf Harper
Charlie Wilson Paul Ryan
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE is one of those deservedly noted plays that any theater buff, and certainly any theater professional, should experience. Written during the Vietnam War/Age of Aquarius, Vonneguts satirical look at the modern life and mores of the then and gone resonates and translates oh so well to the Gulf War/Age of Electronica here and now.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.s play centers around the unexpected return, after eight years, of the warmonger and recently officially declared dead Harold Ryan. An out of step Odysseus come home to roost among the converts of the Love Generation, Ryan returns to find his wife, Penelope, being courted by two men, and his son, Paul, experiencing growing pains and mounting angst. Setting off the social debate that is at the very core of WANDA JUNE, the contrasts of peace versus violence as moral choices are drawn in broad strokes, as the characters are more representations of points of view than they are archetypes.
With some very minor exceptions, this production of HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE not only works, it works well. Where it could use a push is in the interpretation, or perhaps even the understanding of the ironic content, as some scenes were not played to their fullest potential. This was not the case at all whenever Wanda June (a boisterous Jill Frutkin) and Major Siegfried Von Konigswald (a bemused Brian Hastert) were onstage as virtual visitors from the shuffleboard and Ferris wheel filled afterlife. These two, full of giddy exuberance bounced all about the set, adding heaping doses of unbridled humor that carefully counterbalanced the satire being played by the angry Harold Ryan (James M. Saidy) and the torn Colonel Looseleaf Harper (Jake Thomas).
In terms of production values, The 7th Sign, led by the direction of Rachel Chavkin, has done an admirable job in bringing things together. The action never stops, even during intermission, as the actors remained on the set and in character engaging in various non-scripted acts of stage business. Add to the mix some good costumes, effective lighting and sound effects, and a set that makes the most of a very limited space, and anyone would have to admit that this revival of HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE is nothing if not ambitious.
That Kurt Vonnegut Jr.s script remains timely in spite of what could be some very dated material is reason enough to see a play like HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE. It has stood the test of time. As presented here, it is also something interesting and entertaining to watch.
- Kessa De Santis -