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Kurt Vonnegut’s Vietnam-Era Play Lands With a Gasp

Category: Art & Culture,Theater

“I have four brothers, who were all up for the draft,” Ms. Vonnegut said recently. Her father had been a prisoner of war, captured by the Germans in World War II, and the trauma of what he witnessed shaped his worldview and his work. As he watched the Vietnam War unfold, he saw history repeating. But when Ms. Vonnegut was growing up on Cape Cod, she had no idea what he’d gone through.

“The ones who really saw what war did never wanted to clap each other on the back or talk about it,” Ms. Vonnegut said by phone from western Massachusetts, where she is an artist and writer. Like “Slaughterhouse-Five” and much of the rest of her father’s oeuvre, “Wanda June” is “an outgrowth of coming to terms with the evil that he saw, his disappointment in human nature,” she said.

Mr. Wise, whose own 9-year-old daughter, Charlotte, played Wanda June downtown and now splits the role with Brie Zimmer, sees the play’s absurdist style as “fitting for our time.”

“There’s absurdism in the news right now,” he said, “and it’s getting more and more absurd in a very despairing and awful way.”

That makes “Wanda June” something of a risk. Vonnegut believed in laughter as an antidote to pain. But Mr. Wise, Ms. MacCluggage and Mr. O’Connell each mentioned in separate interviews that a show that contains inadvertent echoes of recent events is not a show that everyone feels up to laughing at.

“Even in the last few days,” Mr. O’Connell said in late October, “there are elements of the show that played funnier in April that feel a little darker now, and I don’t think we’re doing anything differently with them. I think people are receiving them differently.”

Ever since Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony during Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Mr. O’Connell said, a scene between Harold and Penelope — he is intent on having sex with her; the feeling is not mutual — comes across differently than it did last spring.

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