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New York | 2h 20m | Already closed

Happy Birthday, Wanda June

From 18 critic and 271 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Funny, Entertaining, Relevant, Quirky

About the show

Wheelhouse Theater Company offers a return engagement of famed novelist Kurt Vonnegut's rarely produced satire. A searing and darkly comedic look at American culture. More…

After being presumed dead for eight years, respected war veteran and big game hunter Harold Ryan returns home. He brings with him an old way of thinking, celebrating a Hemingway-esque machismo and American exceptionalism. Harold soon discovers that the society he returns to has made attempts to progress into a more modern, enlightened cultural narrative. 'Happy Birthday, Wanda June' is a dynamic and often comic meditation on toxic masculinity and a capitalistic America's failed attempts at progress cloaked in honor and morality.

2h 20m | Already closed | The Duke on 42nd Street (Midtown W)


95
This Week in New York Blog

"The glorious production is everything a work by Vonnegut should be: surreal, unpredictable, laugh-out-loud hysterical, extraordinarily intelligent, bold, daring, and challenging...Director Jeffrey Wise has a firm grasp of the material, in total control of the chaos...It’s pure Vonnegut: a potent look at America — and how much it hasn’t changed in nearly fifty years...An all-around triumph, one of the best plays of the season, and a sharp reminder of Vonnegut’s immense legacy." Full Review

90
Times Square Chronicles

“Written by novelist and short story writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in the 70’s, this play is even more relevant today...The entire cast delivers captivating performances, but Jason O’Connell as Harold Ryan is not to be missed. This man is so mesmerizing that you cannot take your eyes off him...Wise makes intelligent choices and really allows Vonnegut’s words and ideas to shine through. Not always easy in an absurdist play.” Full Review

85
Theatermania

"For anyone willing to look, Wheelhouse and director Jeffrey Wise have staged a marvelous abyss...The growling, slobbering, center of the play is O'Connell, who gives one of the most uninhibited performances I've ever witnessed...All of the actors come together in impressive harmony for the show's flash musical numbers...Wise directs Vonnegut's dark comedy with vaudevillian panache." Full Review

85
Theater Pizzazz

"A simple, straightforward style and biting satirical content...What O’Connell manages to do, along with director Wise, is to erase the outdatedness that’s hard to ignore in Vonnegut’s work. O’Connell is a dose of mania, popping in and out of characters and caricatures that are both amusing and infuse the scene with greater nuance...A delightful, wonderfully acted and directed performance that delivers a meaningful message but without hammering the audience over the head." Full Review

80
Wolf Entertainment Guide

“Thoroughly zany in style and performance under the direction of Wise, but it all makes sense thematically in its inherent attack on war, man’s proclivity for killing, inflated heroics and human behavior...The author’s lines add up to a steady beat of stripping away pretension, undermining phony wartime heroism, and mocking machismo...It would be shortsighted to expect a totally logical pot. The acting fits into the concept and mad tone, with excellent cast members.” Full Review

80
Time Out New York

"Although some of Vonnegut's surreal 1970 satire is amusingly dated, there are moments so eerily prescient that you're jolted back to the present...Director Jeff Wise helps his crackerjack cast navigate a tricky tonal tightrope between broad shtick and heartbreaking insight...Even when his absurdist storytelling gets muddled, Vonnegut’s message resounds like the wake-up call of a bugle...The piece is ultimately an indictment of all men who embrace sexism, racism and violence." Full Review

55
National Review

"Masculinity gone haywire could be the basis for a pointed satire but the thing about a successful satire is...it’s funny. ‘Wanda June’ mostly isn’t. Mostly it feels as if it’s playing to the cheap seats. It might have had more salience in 1970...Today that kind of material feels as hoary as the mother-in-law jokes the Vegas comics were doing...Satire that amounts to telling the audience what it already believes...isn’t cutting. It’s just flattery.” Full Review

45
New York Stage Review

“As directed by Wise, it’s loud and confrontational...but it’s no more than that. Just letting a tyrannical hollow man storm around isn’t enough. It’s less than enough. It’s alienating. Making matters worse, the activities handed the other characters have no helpful afflatus. What must be said, however, is that neither Wise nor the actors should share blame for the two-act, two-hour tedium. They’re trying hard...That onus goes to author Vonnegut. He’s solely responsible for this laughless won... Full Review

90
Show Showdown

for a previous production "If there is an afterlife, I hope Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., has had the opportunity to look down and watch the Wheelhouse Theater Company's excellent production of his hilarious, incisive farce...directed with vitality, creativity, and respect...O'Connell manages all of Harold's dimensions in a tour de force performance...MacCluggage is every bit as good....A delayed-release show, where you laugh non-stop while watching it yet remain genuinely moved by it afterward." Full Review

90
Show Showdown

for a previous production "Must a strange, dusty old piece that so efficiently bottled the darkness of the edgy, moody past have to be so damned apt again? I suppose if it must, it might as well be really, really well done, and this production sure is...It zeroes in so brilliantly on some of the republic's most tender bruises...Very frequently hilarious...It's also exceptionally acted...'Wanda June' left me in the most curious state of simultaneous elation and melancholy, but the joy outlasted the sorrow." Full Review

85
The New York Times

for a previous production "Vonnegut Jr.’s shaggy but zingingly relevant comedy now getting a ferociously funny revival...As Jason O’Connell proves in a hilarious and explosive performance as Harold, the cult of masculinity that Vonnegut lampooned is still with us, absurd and menacing and terribly, terribly vain...This is quite a departure, and quite a star turn...In the final act, there’s a scene whose resonance now Vonnegut couldn’t possibly have imagined." Full Review

85
Manhattan Digest

for a previous production "This darkly comic, often absurd and evocative play keeps the laughs coming while never letting its audience forget the bitter and ugly disparity between old-world misogynist machismo and new-age enlightened, sensitive yet sometimes impotent masculinity...O'Connell's broad-stroked but disgustingly gleeful performance...making him the man you love to hate...MacCluggage is extremely enjoyable and a shining standout...All flourish under Wise's deft direction and capable staging." Full Review

80
Theater Pizzazz

for a previous production "The actors do not disappoint, especially in the performance by Jason O’Connell in the leading role...He is enough to see the show all on its own. As for the play itself, even if Vonnegut’s writing, once cutting edge is now somewhat duller, his absurdist take on the human condition has not dated at all. And if the plotting is clunky (which frankly, it always was), Vonnegut more than makes up for it up by his witty and thought-provoking dialogue, which will forever be linked as his trademark." Full Review

75
Off Off Online

for a previous production "The play may not be a masterpiece, but the production by the Wheelhouse Theater Company under director Jeff Wise breathes screwball life into it with strong performances and unabashed theatricality...Under Wise’s direction, the disparate elements blend together like some psychedelic head trip...Most crucial to the production’s success is Jason O’Connell’s riveting performance as Harold, even if he often tips into excess." Full Review

75
Talkin' Broadway

for a previous production "Vonnegut fans will recognize the genre-busting conceits and madcap non sequiturs, and the play's antiwar, antigun satirical focus is pointed and unambiguous...Not a great play...It is, though, boldly theatrical and has its share of Vonnegut's trademark lunacy and deliciously lowbrow humor...Under Jeff Wise's brash direction, the cast is uniformly strong...The play overstays its welcome in the nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time, but in this production...there is certainly much to celebra... Full Review

70
TheaterScene.net

for a previous production "Vonnegut fans and enthusiasts of extremely broad acting will be thrilled by this revival...It’s rarely performed and this excellent production from Wheelhouse Theater Company demonstrates why...Exuberant dialogue matched with a 1960s biting sensibility, a familiar plot, and Shavian speechifying adds up to a patchy and long-winded experience...Their sterling presentation reveals it to be a piece of its time with little weight that does faithfully convey the sly spirit of Vonnegut." Full Review

60
Lighting & Sound America

for a previous production "The play is top-heavy with unamusing exposition; the characters keep coming and going to no purpose, except to engage in lengthy, detail-filled conversations with each other. When a climactic scene is finally arranged, it is as flat as everything else that has come before it. These conclusions are easy to reach because Jeff Wise's staging seems to be right in the spirit of Vonnegut's intentions, with a skillful cast onboard...But much of 'Happy Birthday, Wanda June' dates badly." Full Review

50
Theatre's Leiter Side

for a previous production "Unfortunately, and I know I'm an outlier here, this Wheelhouse Theater Company production is overacted, under-funny, and ineffectually directed. The original's three acts are compressed into two, running a talkatively dreary two hours and 40 minutes. Director Jeff Wise isn't able to locate the correct pace, leading to a lugubrious lack of tension. He also fails to create a world in which we can accept the plausibility of these offbeat characters and a sense of their commitment to one another." Full Review


100
Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful

See it if You want to be challenged and entertained by an unusual story about a family

Don't see it if You hate dramas and you just want an easy story to follow

98
Funny, Edgy, Must see, Incredible acting, Brilliant direction

See it if You like Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and dark comedy and enjoy watching a group of artists truly flex their creative muscles in this resonant romp!

Don't see it if You think that any play that challenges "normality" is "weird".

Also Wheelhouse Theatre Company has knocked it out of the park with this pr... Read more Read less

98
Funny, Clever, Delightful, Intelligent, Great writing

See it if Like a great play where true craft in every dept. puts on an amazing show! Great acting.

Don't see it if If you don't like male centered plays.

98
Funny, Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Riveting

See it if you're a fan of Kurt Vonnegut and the American "dream" family of the 60s/70s. It's satire and it's sarcastic, in your face crazy.

Don't see it if you are the person the play makes fun of: the trophy hunter, the manly brute, the one stuck in the old ways when America was "great".

95
Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Must see, Hilarious

See it if You like Vonnegut, amazing acting by all the characters (and I use that word deliberately), a wonderful story, gorgeous sets

Don't see it if you have no ability to get out of your comfort zone and are too PC to enjoy some crudeness

Also A truly WOW theatrical experience!

95
Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Masterful, Relevant, Great writing

See it if you like great writing, great acting, great staging. Everything was superb. Relevant, thought provoking.

Don't see it if you don't plays that are critical of our culture, especially toxic "masculinity" and misogyny, violence.. You need light entertainment

Also amazing that this play is as relevant today as it was in the 70ies giv... Read more Read less

95
Great acting, Great writing, Great set, Evocative

See it if you don't want to miss a fantastic production of a rarely-performed play.

Don't see it if you can't appreciate 1970s theater, culture, kitsch.

Also Entering the venue, there is the sensation of immersive theater as you... Read more Read less

92
Absorbing, Delightful, Great acting, Intelligent, Entertaining

See it if You want to see an absorbing play that hits home

Don't see it if You have trouble reading between the lines

Also Really great acting. An important play in this divisive time

92
Absorbing, Clever, Edgy, Great acting, Great staging

See it if you want to see an imaginative & darkly funny production of the Vonnegut play. The company masterfully embraces & embodies the characters.

Don't see it if you are not a fan of Kurt Vonnegut or of absurdist plays , or if you are offended by portrayals of chauvinistic attitudes and behavior.

92
Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing, Hilarious, Entertaining

See it if you love absurdism, Kurt Vonnegut, and dark intelligent theatre.

Don't see it if you don't like absurdism or intense stories.

90
Funny, Clever, Dizzying, Quirky, Entertaining

See it if you like bizarre but relevant plays, you want to see the Wheelhouse Company ensemble work together, you like non-stop action

Don't see it if you don't like Vonegut's work; you don't like plays that carry a message; you only like happily ever after plays

90
Clever, Great acting, Quirky, Relevant, Great writing

See it if You like stories with topical plots, this one, though written during the Vietnam era could not be more relevant to today’s headlines.

Don't see it if You don’t like a lot of symbolism, exaggeration and satire used to make some very serious points.

Also I loved this show. I thought it was very creatively directed and super... Read more Read less

90
Absorbing, Great acting, Must see, Riveting, Great staging

See it if A riveting production, an ingenious play. O’Connell and Maccluggage must not be missed. Vonnegut sadly, thrillingly channels our times.

Don't see it if You need to see a conventionally structured play or you are easily offended. Or if you really feel America needs to become “great” again.

90
Clever, Great acting, Quirky, Great writing, Great staging

See it if You’d like to try something on an elevated level. The story was interesting and surprising and the cast really did a great job!

Don't see it if You’re hoping for something simple that won’t challenge you at all.

90
Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if You like the satire of Vonnegut. Excellent production. Machismo to the max is disturbing.

Don't see it if If you don’t like Vonnegut’ perspective.

90
Great acting, Thought-provoking, Masterful, Dated

See it if You are interested in theatre that unpacks themes of masculinity, rage, and gender roles in an old play that is depressingly still relevant

Don't see it if Kurt Vonnegut's admittedly dated writing doesn't appeal to you

90
Absorbing, Edgy, Intense, Thought-provoking, Riveting

See it if you like an off-beat comedy that is surprisingly relevant!

Don't see it if you are not a Kurt Konnegut fan or don't like to be made uncomfortable.

90
Intelligent, Relevant, Resonant, Superb acting & direction, Challenging to interpret

See it if you like dark funny comedy, plays that are intellectually challenging with fine acting & themes about the "nature" of men, women & society.

Don't see it if you dislike plays whose meanings are difficult to discern, have farcial elements and not "realistic" character depictions.

89
Funny, Delightful, Entertaining

See it if you like Kurt Vonnegut and absurd, wonderfully performed theater.

Don't see it if you don't like absurdity and Vonnegut.

88
Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Relevant, Hilarious

See it if you are a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, or like absurdist plays that hold a mirror up to society in a humorous way.

Don't see it if you don't find sarcasm funny or don't like Kurt Vonnegut.

Also This was a very good staging of "Happy Birthday, Wanda June." There we... Read more Read less

88
Ambitious, Clever, Quirky, Refreshing

See it if you enjoy really brave, fun theatre that pushes the edge of the envelope. Extremely inventive with some wonderful performances.

Don't see it if If you're looking for something extremely traditional. This is slightly off-the-wall, as one would expect from the genius of Kurt Vonnegut.

88
Funny, Clever, Great acting, Great writing, Great staging

See it if You love plays that are rel ant our days

Don't see it if You just want to be entertained.

87
Absorbing, Clever, Entertaining

See it if you enjoy well written and well directed scripts. The actors sang and moved around the stage uninhibitedly.

Don't see it if You do not like quirky plays.

87
Ambitious, Dizzying, Great acting, Intense, Riveting

See it if you're a fan of theater of the surreal, the works of Kurt Vonnegut, and some really stellar acting.

Don't see it if you like things to be a bit easier to digest.

Also I was not familiar with the fledgling theatre company Wheelhouse, but ... Read more Read less

87
Absorbing, Ambitious, Clever, Edgy, Great acting

See it if If you like pieces that explore periods of change in American history. Also if you like dark humor. There is definitely dark humor.

Don't see it if You dont like black comedy.


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