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Review: THE SNOW GEESE Sees America Through Chekhovian Eyes

Sharr White's The Snow Geese certainly contains the standard ingredients required for a contemporary Chekhovian drama. There's the stately old family home that must soon be vacated, an assemblage of characters that could have been plucked from the pages of Uncle Vanya, The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard (including a delusional matriarch, a sensitive doctor, a demonstratively devout woman and a servant who sees the foolishness in them all), a symbolic title referring to nature and a theme stressing necessity to adapt to unavoidable change.

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).

It's the first of November, 1917, and the Gaesling family (Meant to sound like gosling?) gathers in their upstate New York hunting lodge for the opening of the season. It's the first time the family tradition has been observed since the death of patriarch Theodore (Christopher Innvar, who only appears briefly as a romantic memory).

Snow geese, migrating for the winter, are in season, but the Gaeslings will soon be migrating themselves as the affluent world they're accustomed to fades from view. Eldest son Duncan (Evan Jonigkeit), who has been off making business contacts to help provide for the family's income, will soon be off to fight in Europe, unaware how his slaughter of birds in flight mimics the slaughter he'll be a part of in the trenches. His younger brother, Arnold (Brian Cross), has been scrutinizing the family finances and is convinced that drastic measures, like selling the lodge, must be taken.

But the lodge belongs to their grieving mother, Elizabeth, who favors Duncan for his dashing lust for adventure - a quality that reminds her of her late husband - over the practical and realistic Arnold. 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.

Excellent support is provided by Jessica Love, politely well-mannered as the Gaeslings' new maid. She's well-aware of what her employers are in for, being a former Ukrainian aristocrat who lost everything and escaped to America during the revolution. On top of that, she's probably seen every Chekhov play performed in her homeland.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Mary-Louise Parker and Victoria Clark; Bottom: Evan Jonigkeit and Brian Cross.

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