The first scene of “The Snow Geese,” about whether it’s unbecoming to invite the maid to join a toast, is practically everything that this play has to say. But there are two hours left. Credit: Joan Marcus
In September, Metro highlighted Manhattan Theatre Club’s “The Snow Geese” as our critic’s pick for the season. Unfortunately, this month’s previews weren’t producing the hype we’d anticipated, which was forewarning the conclusion we reached upon seeing the play: It’s not as good as it should be.
It has all of the right elements, those that led us to believe it would be better: Sharr White, who wrote the “The Other Place” last season; director Daniel Sullivan, who previously won a Tony for MTC’s “Proof” in 2000; and Mary-Louise Parker, who also claims a Tony for “Proof” while working under Sullivan.
Shockingly, these ingredients don’t add up to much; instead, we have a show that looks like a shadow of the play that it wants to be: a poor man’s Chekhov, perhaps. There’s even a gun (among the rifles). It does go off, as we know it will.
The plot focuses on the Gaesling family — Gosling would have been too on-the-nose — at their lodge at the start of hunting season pre-World War I. It’s also two months since the head of household died, leaving his heirs in financial shambles that had heretofore been cleverly disguised. Naturally, this revelation and its fallout leave the previously entitled clan without a safety net. Only the Ukrainian maid (Jessica Love) finds dark humor in the devastation of the witless wealthy who may now — tragically — need to become working-class.
Parker, of “Weeds” fame, knows how to milk the fragile-cum-steely widow bit. And Danny Burstein can do no wrong. The rest of the cast is also on the mark for what it's given. But the acting isn’t enough to bring a flawed work up to its potential — nor are John Lee Beatty’s typically gorgeous, gliding set pieces. The play is not grander for its design; the sumptuousness of the scenery only serves to dwarf the story itself.
And if our critique isn’t enough — and we understand your doubt, given the facts — it must be added that “The Snow Geese” is the first play in a very long time that did not end in a fashionable standing ovation. No one except the elderly or injured rose until the underutilized cast was offstage — and then, only to be the first out.
If you go
‘The Snow Geese’ Through Dec. 15 Samuel J. Friedman Theatre 261 W. 47th St. $67-$125, www.thesnowgeesebroadway.com