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Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Snow Geese (Manhattan Theatre Club)

By Harry Forbes

Classy production values, some good performances, and a not uninteresting narrative are the plusses of this Chekhovian drama set in a suburb of Syracuse, NY, during World War I.

But anachronistic dialogue and a few performances that register as far too contemporary spoil the period mood (for example, succumbing to the modern-day habit of sometimes making a statement sound like a question), despite what may have been the playwright’s intention to position events in a modern vernacular, rather like a trendy adaptation of a Chekhov play.

Star Mary-Louise Parker is the chief offender; she’s simply too much of the present day as Elizabeth, a recently widowed matriarch ensconced in her grief, though she looks the part in her period mourning clothes by Jane Greenwood. Similarly, Evan Jonigkeit and Brian Cross as her sons Duncan and Arnie are too contemporary, though limning the emotions of their characters well; the former, the pampered elder brother, on the eve of going off to France with his regiment, arrogantly confident that American know-how and gumption will save the day; the latter, the bitter neglected younger one, who’s learned that the well-heeled family is, in fact, totally broke.

Still, Danny Burstein as their German uncle whose home was destroyed as a result of anti-German sentiment, and Victoria Clark as his religiously-inclined wife (and Elizabeth’s sister) acquit themselves with the proper period demeanor, while Jessica Love as a Ukrainian maid is quite superb in all her scenes.

John Lee Beatty‘s spacious hunting lodge set captures the ambiance beautifully, and goes a long way to making Sharr White’s play seem more authentic than it really it is. And, of course, Daniel Sullivan's direction is exemplary.

There’s enough intriguing material here to hold your interest, and “The Snow Geese” is never actually dull, but more’s the pity that it couldn’t have been better.

(MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, 212-239-6200, or www.Telecharge.com)
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