By: Sam Affoumado
The Snow Geese, a new play by Sharr White, presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club and MCC Theater, directed by Daniel Sullivan and starring Mary-Louise Parker opened at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street) on October 24, 2013.
Set in the Gaesling family lodge, near Syracuse, NY in the fall of 1917, Sharr White’s play tells the story of the grieving widow Elizabeth (Mary-Louise Parker) who gathers her family together, one last time, to mark the traditional opening of the hunting season. While Elizabeth must face the reality of her elder son’s imminent deployment overseas, she is not ready to confront the reality of the impending downward spiral of the family’s economic and social status. We learn that her recently deceased husband, Teddy (Christopher Innvar), has frivolously squandered the family finances, bringing an end to their own Gilded Age. The solution to their financial woes, devised by the younger son Arnold, (Brian Cross) is to sell their two hundred acre family estate to pay off their debt. What a pity!
The upper class’s inability to function without their inherited wealth and America’s naïveté about the consequences of entering WW1, or any war for that matter, are not unfamiliar subjects to theater audiences. Unfortunately, there is nothing new or fresh about these broader themes as presented in Mr. White’s play and the characters are too shallow to warrant our visceral concern about their problems or even the more global issues of the day.
One can make comparisons to characters or situations in the plays of Chekhov but that would be unfair. Chekhov’s overall sense of the tedium and uselessness of everyday life is softened by the sympathetic relationships of his characters and there is always someone who expresses hope for a better tomorrow. Mr. White’s characters are not nearly as subtle or likable. It is difficult to have compassion for the cocky, shallow, golden-boy, Duncan, the older son (Evan Jonigkeit), who struts his stuff through most of the play until he discovers that much of his life has been a charade. It is also difficult to relate to a mother who refuses to see the reality of her family’s dire situation. Her husband squandered their fortune trying to keep her happy but she clearly cannot see the error of his ways. She lavishes affection and admiration upon her first born, the embodiment of her late husband, leaving her younger son out in the emotional cold. We can recognize and, to some extent, appreciate her misguided ways, her ineffectiveness, her shortcomings, but somehow, we do not really sympathize. Chekhov’s characters, some of who are silly, morally conflicted, ineffectual or perhaps misguided are, for the most part, still endearing.
The upper classes in America had grown accustomed to their easy wealth without regard for the plight of anyone outside their social class. Placed in this milieu, Mr. White’s play depicts an mélange of themes: Class and cultural conflict, sibling rivalry, parental favoritism, xenophobia (in this case hatred of anyone German). However, the impact of this thematic concoction doesn’t stir our emotions because these ideas are never fully realized and we are left with a rather familiar family soap opera.
The Snow Geese does have its intriguing moments thanks to some solid performances by some of the cast members. The Ukranian maid, Viktorya (Jessica Love) is compelling, when she tells the story of her unimaginable loss of innocence and the brutal demise of her aristocratic heritage. Max Hohmann, (Danny Burstein) Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, gives a heartfelt performance as a German-born doctor who endures the wrath of anti-German sentiment when his medical practice literally goes up in smoke. Elizabeth’s pious and practical sister, Clarissa (Victoria Clark) is thoroughly grounded in reality and her performance is first-rate while Ben Cross is engaging as the younger brother, Arnold. Ms. Parker’s performance is sufficiently quirky which suits the character of Elizabeth. It is, however, in the dreamlike sequence with her husband where she is most in her element. The modern, effervescent, coquettish, Elizabeth is a stunner and Ms. Parker plays her to perfection.
Daniel Sullivan’s production is stylish and the period comes alive in John Lee Beatty’s elegant sets, Jane Greenwood’s smart cos
tumes, Japhy Weidman’s impressive atmospheric lighting and Rocco DiSanti’s poignant snow geese projections.
The Snow Geese by Sharr White is presented by Manhattan Theater Club, Lynne Meadow, artistic director; Barry Grove, executive producer; and MCC Theater, Robert LuPone, Bernard Telsey and William Cantler, artistic directors; Blake West, executive producer. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 West 47th Street, Manhattan, (212) 399-3050,
Photo: Joan Marcus
Follow Us On Facebook