Snow Geese Doesn’t Make Our Emotions Fly
By: Lauren Yarger
A group of people argues and talks over each other sentences for a while, obviously upset about something, but what that might be is much less obvious.
So begins The Snow Geese, Sharr White’s puzzling play getting a Broadway run by Manhattan Theatre Club. And perhaps it would have been best if it ended there too, for it never engages us, causes us to care for any of the characters, — save one — and never fully justifies its presence in a Broadway theater given all the really great plays out there just waiting to be produced.
Propelling the production is its star, Mary-Louise Parker, a terrific actress whom I was looking forward to seeing on stage. The Snow Geese teams her again with ProofDirector Daniel Sullivan. They both took home Tonys for that one. MTC also might have been banking on their success last season with White’s play The Other Place, which earned its star Laurie Metcalf a nomination.
Whatever forces joined to result in this production, they aren’t enough to make it interesting. The Gaesling family is in crisis (hence the argument at the dinner table). The patriarch, Teddy (Christopher Innvar) died two months ago and his grieving wife is in denial, big time. She has other things to worry about any way, like eldest son, Duncan (Evan Jonigkeit) getting ready to ship off to the front (it’s 1917, by the way). Second son, Arnold (Brian Cross) has discovered that his father was a terrible financial manager and the family is broke.
And to the mix poor relations (and unfortunately for the time, German-accented) Max Hohmann (Danny Burstein) and his wife, Clarissa (Victoria Clark), who take up residence at the Gaesling family hunting lodge just outside Syracuse, after their home is burned by German haters. Angst is in the air as Duncan hopes to enjoy one last hunt for snow geese before shipping out.
The parts of the plot and play never come together, though, as though White took aim at the material with buckshot instead of a sharp-shooting rifle. Yes, we get that Duncan is selfish. Yes, we get that Elizabeth (Parker) would rather fantasize about being with her dead husband than live in reality. Yes, we get (thanks to Ukrainian maid and war refugee Victorya Grayaznoy (Jessica Love) that Americans are a bunch of spoiled, naive and ungrateful people. But do we care? Not much.
Clarissa, the one character for whom we feel some warmth, acts like a mother goose to fluttering Arnold when his own mother isn’t really available. Is it any coincidence that the family’s name seems so close to the word gosling?
The set and period costumes (designed by John Lee Beatty and Jane Greenwood) are nice to look at. My favorite part of this play was a projection effect that creates a flutter of startled geese flying around the stage (Rocco DeSanti, projection design). Not much else excited me.
It’s a shame, because there is some pretty extraordinary talent up there on stage with very little to do. Sullivan is one of the best directors on Broadway and MTC has a built-in subscription audience. Too bad all those positive elements come together in play that isn’t worthy.
The Snow Geese plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC through Dec. 15. http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/.