Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan
We have all heard of the challenges Veterans can have when returning from war. Happy Birthday Wanda June tells about some of this horrors that can plague men and women who serve in the military, and the struggle they face when they come home. Despite the Issues that the play tries to uncover, it is only half-way successful and thus its impact decreases.
Harold has been away from his wife for 8 years during the Vietnam War. During this time his wife Penelope has no idea if her husband is dead or alive. Penelope starts seeing other men until one day, out of the blue, Harold returns. Eight years is a long time to wait for someone even if they are your husband. So what is she supposed to do when Harold returns? Alarmingly, Harold is not the same man she once knew and had children with. The rest of the play deals with these issues and there aftermath.
The play definitely has potential to be a powerful vehicle for people to understand the experience of those who experience the unspeakable trauma of war. Unfortunately, the cast never finds the true rhythm of piece and this significantly lessens its efficacy. Craig Wesley Divino plays Harold. The actor works very hard to layer on behaviors and affectations to signify how much being at war has changed him. He makes bold choices while playing his character. Yet, they don’t seem to be coming out of honesty. This makes him look disjointed and uncomfortable on stage. All of the extra things, he plays with, well they seem extra. His comical moments don’t land and the audience doesn’t quite know how to react to him. This is a shame because Devino has talent, but it just doesn’t all add up in his performance. However, Kate Maccluggage, as Penelope, finds the true moments of her character and plays them well.
There are some loose ends in the script that could use tightening up. Towards the end of act one, we discover that Harold has jungle fever, which could explain for his mannerisms. However, this circumstance seems forgotten about in the rest of the play. If it’s not going to be dealt with in the rest of the play, why mention it all? Also, the character of Wanda June does not make much sense and her appearances cause confusion. While it is clear who she is and what she represents, we are never quite sure of the necessity of her character.
As much as I applaud the plays intent to educate and inform us, I left dissatisfied with its execution. It is hard to say where the blame lies, Is it the writing or the acting? Whatever the case may be, we can hope it will improve in subsequent performances and revisions. No doubt it has great potential, but right now it is a diamond in the rough.
Happy Birthday Wanda June plays now through June 2, 2018 at the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond St. http://www.happybirthdaywandajune.com