Thursday, October 24, 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 family's wealth.
What to do?
Ms. 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.
Director 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.