Ah the magic of lowered expectations! The first-night reviews for The Snow Geese were mixed to poor, citing a heavy-handed Chekhovian quality. Well, personally I think playwright Sharr White has exercised a pretty light touch here, and aside from a handful of surface features, this play doesn’t resemble Chekhov in the least (which is good, as I’m not a big fan of Chekhov).
The Snow Geese more closely resembles the family dramas of Eugene O’Neill (there’s even a family servant named O’Neill here), but even that suggests more tragedy than the play contains. Perhaps the best comparison is to A. R. Gurney’s dramas about life in Buffalo. White’s play shares both Gurney’s upstate New York setting (but a rural one, near Syracuse, rather than Gurney’s urban one) and a gimlet-eyed wryness concerning the people he portrays.
It’s November 1917, and the United States has only recently entered World War I. The Gaesling famuily of Syracuse congregate in their rural lodge for their annual shooting party to celebrate the opening of hunting season. The eldest son Duncan (Evan Jonigkeit) is about to go to war, while the younger son Arnie (Brian Cross) learns that their recently deceased father had completely depleted the family fortune.
The cast is uniformly terrific. Mary-Louise Parker shines as mater familias Elizabeth, who is optimistic almost to the point of delusion. Victoria Clark is dryly funny as her strict Methodist sister Clarissa, and Danny Burstein beautiful plays the varied shades of White’s most genuinely Chekhovian character, Clarissa’s deeply conflicted German-American husband Max.
If you are not fruitlessly looking for the Chekhov parallels (they’re so freaking minor), The Snow Geese proves to be an engaging, interesting, marvelously specific family drama. Daniel Sullivan has directed it with his usual thoughtfulness and fluidity, finding ways to make the Gaeslings’ often languorous dialogue move along with liveliness. While it’s certainly true that this isn’t as shockingly brilliant as White’s The Other Place, it is definitely an intelligent, subtle drama that is well worth seeing.
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