Happy Birthday, Wanda June takes a searing and darkly comedic look at American culture through the brilliantly perverse lens of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.. Harold Ryan, a widely respected war veteran and big game hunter, returns home after being missing and presumed dead for 8 years. Harold brings with him an old way of thinking, one that celebrates a chauvinist machismo and American exceptionalism. But Harold soon discovers that the society he returns to has made attempts to progress into a more modern and enlightened cultural narrative. What follows is a dynamic and often hilarious meditation on toxic masculinity and an American capitalist society’s failed attempts at progress cloaked in “honor” and “morality”, and how the two are deeply connected. But simply put, and as the first few lines of the play state, “this is a play about men who enjoy killing, and those who don’t.”
According to Director Jeffrey Wise, “Harold Ryan, the plays protagonist, represents so much more than just an overly masculine male energy. He represents a capitalist culture, where “progress” is measured in a linear fashion, based on a certain level of calculable production and growth. Harold Ryan’s treatment of virtually anyone he comes in contact with, especially his wife, young son and his wife’s pacifist fiancé, portrays this behavior. But it’s not a behavior as much as it is a sickness that so insidiously spreads among our culture, and we see it today, more potent than ever, some 48 years after this play was penned. It’s a toxic glorification of death, destruction and domination cloaked in “heroism” and “American democratic values.” And as Vonnegut points out, it’s a force that will not stop on its own...it cannot kill itself.”
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