By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
This new play, The Snow Geese by Sharr White, feels like an old play, which is surprising, since White’s new play last season, The Other Place, was stunningly new in both themes and methods—and Laurie Metcalf’s thrilling performance. The Snow Geese is amelodramatic and engrossing family drama about a world from a century ago. It seems Chekhovian—a party in a country house surrounded by birch trees, money troubles, talky people (one of whom is, of course, a doctor) although unlike the Russian’s masterworks, this play is plot-driven, not character-driven.
But it also feels distinctly American: two brothers (think O’Neill, Williams, Miller, Shepard, Parks) battling over their father’s legacy of lies. In this case, the father is dead, the debts are huge, and the issues go beyond sibling rivalry to examine bigger questions about patriotism, xenophobia, and the unconscious privileged attitudes fed by living in a countrythat is not devastated by the war. There’s broke, and then there’s destroyed.
The fine actor, Evan Jonigkeit, Philly’s own, is back on Broadway. You may remember him from his terrific performances in Arden’s The History Boys and Maukingbird’s The Misanthrope-- terrific enough to cause Philadelphia Weekly to call him “Philly’s Sexiest Actor.” He has had remarkably good luck with leading ladies: first the powerful Kathleen Turner and now the lovely Mary Louise Parker. His performance as the spoiled, dashing punster son of an upper class family, home from Princeton for their annual shooting party (champagne at breakfast), on his way to join the army in France in 1917, is beautifully nuanced.
Mary Louise Parker wears Jane Greenwood’s gorgeous costumes with irresistible grace, but her voice is thin and her widow’s grief is filled with trite gestures. Danny Burstein is fine as the German physician, as is Jessica Love as the Polish maid, a once-rich refugee.
Brian Cross, a newcomer to Broadway, plays the long-suffering, deprived younger brother, the realist in the midst of these self-deluded, self-dramatizing deniers; his role is the pivot of the play, and he turns in a strong, convincing performance.
In a magnificent set designed by John Lee Beatty, the absurdities of wantonly killing animals for amusement—twenty-two snow geese: “What a waste!”—are linked to the statistics of the hundreds of thousands dead on the Great War’s battlefields. If White’s aim is to suggest relevance to today’s battlefields, as well as to today’s financial crisis, it seems preposterous. This play is the very kind of cliché that allows people to miss the point, and it’s hard not to wonder why he wrote it. Nevertheless, The Snow Geese is a watchable pleasure in a Masterpiece Theatre kind of way.
MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street) Through Dec.15. Tickets $67-125. Information: Telecharge 212-239-6200 or www.Telecharge.com