Happy Birthday, Wanda June SummaryHappy Birthday, Wanda June presents the return of Harold Ryan and Colonel Looseleaf, two ‘classic’ American heroes. Ryan, an explorer and Looseleaf, who dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, have been in the Amazon Rain Forest for the past eight years and return home, with Ryan in particular expecting a welcome celebrating the duo’s triumph over other lands. When the two war veterans arrive back in the United States, they’re surprised that their families and even the perceptions surrounding heroic acts have moved on. Ryan’s wife, Penelope, has rejected the past violent glories of her husband, instead preferring the company of Dr. Norbert Woodly, a “healer” to Ryan’s “killer”. Looseleaf’s family has also moved on.
Ryan and Looseleaf find themselves in each others company once again, trying to make sense of the changing world. Ryan attempts to find something physical to attack and conquer, whereas Looseleaf begins to question the heroic connotations of bombing Nagasaki, noting that “anybody who’d drop an atom bomb on a city has to be pretty dumb.” The play ends with a stand-off between Ryan and Dr. Woodly, with the former realising his own “irrelevance”. However, Woodly’s character is also at fault, with Penelope noting that they’re “both disgusting – with your pride, your pride”. Happy Birthday Wanda June explores the relationship between war and traditionally conceived perceptions of heroes and challenges the apparent relationship between violence and valour.
Sugar Creek, Midland City, Ohio
Readers who are familiar with Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, such as Breakfast of Champions, will have felt a tinge of recognition when Colonel Looseleaf discusses Sugar Creek. In Happy Birthday, Wanda June Looseleaf briefly discusses his role in his local scout troop, suggesting that the only scout badge he remembers getting is Public Health. As Looseleaf explains: “That was a bitch. The Boy Scout Manual said I was supposed to find out what my town did about sewage. Jesus, they dumped it all in Sugar Creek”. Sugar Creek is the gloopy, polluted creek Kilgore Trout crosses on the way into Midland City, in Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut discusses the pollution of the creek in the novel, noting that The Maritimo Brothers Construction Company, which is meant to be safely disposing waste from the Barrytron plant (a plastics company), is really siphoning the waste into Sugar Creek. Much like Trout, who unwittingly discovers the sheer scale of the pollution after his feet are encased in a plastic substance, Looseleaf learns about the waste disposal habits of Midland City, the hard way.
Looseleaf’s town, Midland City, is also home to the likes of Rudy Waltz, the protagonist of Deadeye Dick, as well as Dwayne and Celia Hoover (of Breakfast of Champions and Deadeye Dick).