Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

NY Review: THE SNOW GEESE

By Toby Zinman

NY Review: THE SNOW GEESE

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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.

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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

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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