By: Sandi Durell
As Elizabeth Gaesling’s (Mary-Louise Parker) family gather at their lodge to drink a glass of champagne to commemorate the annual shooting party, (the opening of hunting season) a tradition began by her recently dead husband (Christopher Innvar who makes a cameo appearance in a dream sequence), the chatter is deafening and presents as artificial. Elizabeth, in widow’s weeds, appears seemingly light-hearted. Youngest son, Arnold, says it all when he verbally observes “God knows what would happen if we ever stopped talking and actually did something around here.”
It doesn’t take long to realize that playwright Sharr White was feeling in a Chekhov mood when he wrote “The Snow Geese” – a very different family drama to last year’s award-winning success, “The Other People,” also produced by Manhattan Theatre Club at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
Parker has her own style of emoting that is other-worldly and esoteric making it difficult to understand and hear her at times. She also appears to look too young to have two grown sons, each of opposite minds – favored golden child Duncan (Evan Jonigkeit) a Princeton man and good-time Charlie type, who is about to ship off to War (WWI, it’s 1917) and younger more serious minded Arnie (Brian Cross, making a relevant Broadway debut) who has discovered they have no money due to father’s financial ineptitude. He has let go of all the servants except one, a young Ukranian maid Viktorya (Jessica Love) who understands more than they realize as the daughter of a wealthy family, now in America as a servant.
Other family members include a devout Clarissa (Victoria Clark), Elizabeth’s sister, and her husband Max (Danny Burstein) a sympathetic German doctor who has been ostracized by their upstate Syracuse community because he is German – both giving earthy performances.
The play is talky and conflicts take too long to reveal in this story of family favorites and mindsets that come out of living as upper crust wealthy families do, unable to fathom life any other way. It is only at the conclusion that the obvious solution of selling the property and lake frontage is even discussed.
Directed by Daniel Sullivan, the physical lodge setting by John Lee Beatty is aristocratic and revolves to reveal the very Chekovian forest where geese fly off on the projection background (Rocco DiSanti). Lighting design is by Japhy Weideman with costumes by Jane Greenwood.
*Photos: Joan Marcus
Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 West 47th Street, Manhattan, (212) 399-3050 Through Dec. 15. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes; manhattantheatreclub.com.