by Sharr White
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Starring Mary-Louise Parker, Victoria Clark
and Danny Burstein
A Production of the Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

Reviewed by David Spencer

The Snow Geese, by Sharr White seems to be trying very hard to be a Chekhovian pastiche set in an early 20th century period and place that would be the American equivalent of the remote Russian manor. In this case it’s the Gaesling family lodge outside of Syracuse, NY, in 1917, during WWI. Dramatised here is the first gathering of the family after its patriarch’s death. We have grieving widow and mother Elizabeth (Mary-Louise Parker), oblivious to the impending realities aout to change the lifetstyle to which she is accustomed; Duncan (Evan Jonigkeit) a young son in the army, way too close to dissolution for his age; and older son Arnold (Brian Cross), the financial whistle-blower nobody listens to. In act two, in a flashback, we even see a memory-ghot of the father who left them all behind (Christopher Innvar). Because it wouldn’t be real fake Chekhov without a doctor, sure enough, there’s German-born, yet legally American Max Hohmann (Danny Burstein) who must suffer the indignities of being categorized with the Germans fighting Americans overseas; and who is perhaps more than a little in love with Elizabeth; this despite being married to Elizabeth’s older sister, the aggressively Christian Clarissa (Victoria Clark). And finally there’s a pretty immigrant Ukranian maid (Jessica Love) who, given the repressive regime from which she hails, marvels that any of these people truly believe they’re in unfortunate straits.

                  Nothing wrong, strictly speaking, with the assemblage of characters. What ultimately defeats the play is that, while Chekhov was assiduous in the construction of his characters’ psychologies, Mr. White entertains no such consistency. Though the broad outline of its modest story can be followed, it often makes no internal sense. Well into the play, a compliment triggers a shame-filled suicidal rage in the younger son for no apparent reason; Clarissa seems a bible-thumping drudge in Act One but in Act Two suddenly becomes the family’s stable core and voice of reason; older son Arnold is nothing but an alarmist and whiner for most of the play and then similarly becomes resourceful at the end. On the plus side: it’s all a little too much of a head-scratcher to be dull. Fine cast and competent, workmanlike direction by Daniel Sullivan.

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