Happy Birthday, Wanda June
by Kurt Vonnegut
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!
Photo of play reading by moi.