Review: The Snow Geese

The Snow Geese Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

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.

For tickets, click here.

Review: The Winslow Boy

The Winslow Boy American Airlines Theatre

This is often described as (closeted) gay British writer Terrence Rattigan’s best play, and based on the production currently at the Roundabout, I’m definitely inclined to agree. In July 1912, young cadet Ronnie Winslow is expelled from naval school for stealing – a crime he believably claims he didn’t commit – which proves to have an immense effect on his family. Though they defend his innocence with all of their might, will their sacrifices clear his name? Are their sacrifices, in the final analysis, really worth it?

Having been engrossed by Rattigan’s Man & Boy a couple of seasons back, I was not surprised at the understated intelligence at work in this meticulously constructed play. What did surprise me was how very funny The Winslow Boy is. The Winslows are a zippy, quick-witted bunch, and though they are dealing with very serious issues, it’s highly enjoyable to watch their interactions with each other and the outside world.

Lindsay Posner’s brisk, smart direction certainly helps, though I do wish the cast did hold a bit more for the laughs. Though The Winslow Boy is a fairly lengthy four-act play, it’s a credit to both Rattigan and Posner that I barely felt its length.

Roger Rees, who plays the father, gives a particularly intense performance, richly evoking the ardent Romanticism that lurked in many a Victorian heart. The line between something feeling like an exciting period piece instead of simply dated almost always lies in the quality of the acting. Whatever the period, if you play the needs of you characters with real passion, it won’t feel dated in the least. I am happy to report that is definitely the case with this production, and as such I highly recommend it!

For tickets, click here.