Review Roundup: THE SNOW GEESE Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

By: Oct. 24, 2013
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Manhattan Theatre Club and MCC Theater's world premiere of Sharr White's The Snow Geese opens tonight, October 24, at MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street).

Directed by Daniel Sullivan, The Snow Geese features Tony and Emmy Award winner Mary-Louise Parker, four-time Tony Award nominee Danny Burstein, Tony Award winner Victoria Clark, Evan Jonigkeit, Brian Cross, Christopher Innvar, and Jessica Love.

With World War I raging abroad, newly widowed Elizabeth Gaesling (Mary-Louise Parker) gathers her family for their annual shooting party to mark the opening of hunting season in rural, upstate New York. But Elizabeth is forced to confront a new reality as her carefree eldest son (Evan Jonigkeit) comes to terms with his impending deployment overseas and her younger son (Brian Cross) discovers that the father they all revered left them deeply in debt. Together, the family must let go of the life they've always known.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: And if White's text doesn't shine any new light on the subject, the play is engaging enough when matched with Daniel Sullivan's handsome, mostly well-acted production, featuring distinguished visuals by John Lee Beatty (set), Jane Greenwood(costumes) and Japhy Weideman (lights)...Unfortunately, Mary-Louise Parker's wispy and underwhelming performance lacks the necessary depth, often speaking too quickly and softly to be understood. Far more strength and craft is displayed by Victoria Clark as her pragmatic and devout sister, Clarissa, and Danny Burstein as Clarissa's thickly accented German husband, a doctor keeping Elizabeth on medication to sooth her depression.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: "The Snow Geese," a fable of a family that isn't as rich as it thinks it is, is unlikely to stir any emotion other than bewilderment as to how this lifeless play wound up on Broadway. I can answer that question in two words (or three, if you don't count hyphens): Mary-Louise Parker...On its own, though, Mr. White's play remains a muddle of pastiche parts that never cohere into an original and organic whole. And the cast members - who include the excellent Broadway veterans Victoria Clark and Danny Burstein and several attractive young newcomers - fail to convince us, and perhaps even themselves, otherwise. The same might be said of Ms. Parker, whose preternaturally youthful face seems frozen in mild astonishment, as if she were surprised to find herself here.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Mary-Louise Parker is much too delicate and entirely too fashionable (in stunning widow's weeds designed by Jane Greenwood) to be stuck in Syracuse in the dead of winter and at the end of the Gilded Age in America. But that's the price of playing a Chekhovian heroine in "The Snow Geese," Sharr White's bland homage to the master of upper-class existential malaise. The family in this domestic drama is, indeed, as melancholy as any family in a Russian play. But they're so shallow and self-centered that they are welcome to their misery.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: But homage is a tricky thing, in this case making for a tedious play that's stubbornly unaffecting, its pathos hollow and manufactured. Daniel Sullivan's Broadway production has elegance to spare. The same goes for the gorgeous sets of John Lee Beatty, which revolve to ingeniously allow for different perspectives on the same space of an early-20th century family hunting lodge in upstate New York, opening onto the wild marshes outside. Jane Greenwood's period costumes also are handsomely detailed. But the overwhelming impression remains that a lot of care and effort has been put into a play that acquires a pulse only intermittently...while Parker can be a dangerous and exciting stage actor to watch, her idiosyncratic mannerisms often place her inside a bubble with little connection to the other players on the stage; that contributes here to make an unsympathetic character more distancing.

Matt Windman, AM New York: It takes some time -- too much really -- for the conflict to develop. But in time, "The Snow Geese," as directed by Daniel Sullivan with his characteristic polish, turns into the atmospheric character study that White intended. Jonigkeit's emotional transformation in disposition is the unexpected centerpiece of this production. While Parker brings a credible fragility and vulnerability, she comes off as too contemporary for a period piece. As family members, Danny Burstein and Victoria Clark offer fine performances that are remarkably sober compared to their acclaimed turns in numerous musicals.

Linda Winer, Newsday: How sad, then, that the play is such a muddle. It's an interesting neo-Chekhovian muddle, mind you, and I'm not a bit sorry to have shared the time with White, 43, a late-blooming playwright whose corporate job has been supporting his family in their Hudson Valley home. Given the rich situation and director Daniel Sullivan's darkly luscious production, however, the disappointments hurt. Parker, whose extensive theater career includes her Tony-winning performance in Sullivan's staging of "Proof," makes a fascinating, poignant wraith -- a lost soul in silky black mourning gowns (by Jane Greenwood), just beginning to realize how much is lost. But her voice is sometimes hard to hear, especially in the wordy exposition when everyone in the family is babbling at the same time about many important plot points. Victoria Clark is exquisitely down to earth as the pious sister, while Danny Burstein has touching fury as the German-born doctor enduring wartime xenophobia.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: ...after a slow start, White's play (jointly produced by Manhattan Theatre Club and MCC Theater) evolves, under Daniel Sullivan's meticulous direction, into a lovely, moving account of a clan's struggle to adapt to trying circumstances and a changing world. White's Broadway debut, The Other Place, produced earlier this year, also followed a middle-aged woman whose grasp on reality was challenged, but it was a psychological mystery that blurred lines between past and present, imagination and fact. This more conventionally structured study of unlucky souls seems to have been written under Chekhov's spell.

Jesse Green, Vulture: The Snow Geeselacks two qualities whose absence can't be finessed. One is freshness. Whereas Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, another Chekhov gloss, successfully put the master's archetypes in amusingly new situations, White gives us a play we feel like we've already seen...The actors do what they can, but here, too, there is a mismatch. On one team you have Mary-Louise Parker as Elizabeth, looking lovely in her widow's weeds. Parker can be extraordinarily compelling when playing contemporary characters; her thinking process, with all its starts and stops and pauses and reversals, is unusually legible and honest. (She'd be excellent in White's terrific play The Other Place, recently on Broadway.) Characters who are less modern pose a problem for her though, because they are usually written to think withthe lines, not between them. Parker just doesn't gravitate that way, and because her pull is so powerful the audience gets dragged into her style instead of the play's, and so do some of the young actors playing her sons.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Sharr White's World War I-era drama, "The Snow Geese," is a low-flying work. Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club and MCC Theater, the play is interesting, but too diffuse to satisfy fully. Some compensation comes from a fine-tuned cast led by Mary-Louise Parker, who's at her signature idiosyncratic best...White raises lots of ideas - about parental favoritism, culture clashes and sibling rivalries. He doesn't fully develop any of these notions. And Arnold's 11th-hour solution to money woes should have been obvious to the whole family from the get-go. But the play is less about action and more about developing a group portrait. Another draft could have brought things into better focus.

Danny Groner, The Huffington Post: Those drawn to "The Snow Geese" for the star at the center of it, Mary-Louise Parker, might be disappointed to discover a vulnerable, careless woman whose demons have been exposed after the untimely death of her husband. It won't come as a surprise, though, for those who saw playwright Sharr White's other Broadway play earlier this year, "The Other Place." A common thread runs between those two plays about the mania that follows the loss of a loved one...As Elizabeth dreams of her husband's reemergence, Parker shows off her acting chops. It's a scene that sits tangential to the drama taking place around it, but it lends incredible insight into Elizabeth's troubled mind and heartbroken soul. To some degree, the play could use more of those moments, where Elizabeth appears to be alone, but is much more alive in those moments than at any other point in the play. They also give the audience a chance to marvel at what talent Parker brings when the stage clears and makes way for her.

Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: "The Snow Geese," which opened Thursday night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, has a refreshingly unusual setting: a hunting lodge near Syracuse in 1917. What happens there is, unfortunately, much less tantalizing, despite the presence of such A-list actors as Mary-Louise Parker, Danny Burstein and Victoria Clark.The author Sharr White zeroes in on a family's life at a moment when everything in it is shifting, at a time when the entire American experience is changing.

Adam Feldman, TimeOut NY: While The Snow Geese inherits some of the less appealing aspects of 19th-century dramas-lengthy exposition, laborious bird metaphors-it does not share those works' depth of feeling or insight. And the play, intent on modern resonance, often feels jarringly, unevenly contemporary. (Someone calls the Great War "a bloody shit show.") It's a pretty but unsatisfying meal, undercooked and overstuffed.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: I had trouble with the first act, which never seemed to take wing, and though the second act was more involving, I felt at play's end that the last word had been spoken an hour and a half earlier by one of the unhappy characters: "God knows what would happen if we ever stopped talking and actually did something around here." Any show whose cast includes Danny Burstein, Victoria Clark and Mary-Louise Parker is worth seeing by definition, but "The Snow Geese" failed to get me on board.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Director Daniel Sullivan smoothly handles White's melodramatic story, which also includes Elizabeth's religious sister, Clarissa, and her German husband, Max. The reliably wonderful Victoria Clark and Danny Burstein (doing a rather odd accent) act the hell out of tacked-on parts. You actually would like to know more about Clarissa, whose forbidding manner hides a kind spirit.

Roma Torre, NY1: "The Snow Geese" characters share Chekhov's thematic constant - boredom. The challenge is how to write about it without becoming it. Chekhov masterfully avoided that dramatic pitfall. Not quite Sharr White. And if his first act is slow to take off, he's got the ideal company to ensure a heartfelt landing.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: Staged by Daniel Sullivan and played in on John Lee Beatty's bosky set, "The Snow Geese" is derivative of other works about favored children and the damage done by the parents who dote on them. Still, the scenes in which Duncan and Max duke it out for acceptance and come to a wrenching reconciliation are touching. And Parker is translucent as a woman subsumed by her own passions -- and remorse.

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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