"The Snow Geese" presented by Manhattan Theatre Club, October 20, 2013
An approaching winter of discontent is stirring as the lights come up on The Snow Geese,
Sharr White's new play at Manhattan Theatre Club. It's November, 1917,
and the Gaeslings have gathered at their country lodge outside
Syracuse, NY to celebrate the opening of goose hunting season. The
gloom of Theodore Gaesling's recent death looms over the proceedings as
his widow Elizabeth (Mary Louise Parker) struggles to keep her chin up
as her first-born Duncan (Evan Jonigkeit) prepares to ship out to fight
in WWI France. Elizabeth's pious sister Clarissa (Victoria Clark) and
husband Max (Danny Burstein) have taken up residence with Elizabeth
after local anti-German sentiment has forced them out of their own home
and Max's medical practice. The house staff has reduced to a new
Ukrainian immigrant maid, Viktorya, whose beauty has enraptured younger
son Arnold (Brian Cross).
Arnold has also been tasked
with sorting out the books following his father's death, which turns out
to me more of an autopsy of the family finances. It seems Theodore was
no savvy businessman. Previous staff and accountants had drained the
What to do?
Parker's Elizabeth is a woman in desperate denial following the loss of
the love of her life and on the eve of her golden child leaving for
war. She gives a solid and respectable performance, dour as reality
smacks her in the face then basking in the glow of a laudanum-inspired
dream that reunites her with Theodore. As Clarissa, Ms. Clark tut-tuts
about, frowning on the free-flow of alcohol as a good, obtuse and
American Methodist should thriving in the search for practical solutions
to the family problems. Her sisterly tension with Ms. Parker works
nicely. Jessica Love gives a strong turn as Viktorya, particularly when
she schools Duncan on harshness of loss, sharing her own trauma when
the Austrians invaded.
Mr. Burstein turns in
another nicely shaded performance as the German ex-patriate doctor,
betrayed and shunned by his adopted country because of his accent. Mr.
Jonigkeit's Duncan swaggers appropriately as the favored and petted
heir. He manages a fine line between shock and melodrama as he learns
all that his family has given up for him. It's Mr. Cross' Arnold who
really shines as a young man, still a teenager, who shoulders the burden
of his father's financial mistakes and shortcomings, as well as the
burden of not being first-born and therefore never given credit for
brains or effort.
The bigger weaknesses of this
production are in the script. Mr. White gives Duncan a line that
includes, "...because we're Americans. That's what we do." Given the
history of US entry into WWI, and the previous position of isolationism,
that kind of statement comes across as an anachronism. Another example
is Arnold shouting about "...expressing my feelings...," not exactly language of the period.
Daniel Sullivan manages to rise above the weaknesses in the script,
supported by his strong cast. John Lee Beatty's sliding platform sets
are excellent,even if some of the set elements are a little reminiscent
of Cinderella which is playing around the corner and up Broadway. Jane Greenwood's costumes are spot on.
In all, it's a solid production carried by the strength of the company. The Snow Geese runs through December 15, 2013. Get tickets here.