Review by Suzanne Angeo (Member, American Theatre Critics Association) and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
It’s 1917. War is raging not only in Europe, but also right here at home in Upstate New York, in the splendid hunting lodge of the genteel Gaesling family. The family has had a long tradition of meeting each fall in their elegant lodge for fine dining, fine shooting, and fine luxuries. But this year is different. They find themselves dealing with loss on an uncomfortable number of levels. The eldest son and family scion is packing off to war. The younger son has made a shocking discovery that will profoundly change their lives. And their mother has just lost her husband, the beloved father of her boys.
“The Snow Geese” by American playwright Sharr White opened on Broadway to mixed reviews in October 2013, running for several weeks. It attempts to address the timeless themes of materialism, sibling rivalry, and the loss of privilege and security.
Fear is a strong undercurrent running just below the surface of most of the characters’ interactions. Debbie Williams, as the recently widowed matriarch Elizabeth, uses a melodramatic approach to her character. At times she’s not quite convincing. But when she slips into a more naturalistic style, she also can be touching, especially during the flashback scenes with her late husband Theodore (Ron Williams).
Clarissa (Julia Glander), Elizabeth’s eccentric and sanctimonious older sister, brings a crackling tension and conscience to the proceedings. Her German husband Max (David Wolber) offers an amiable contrast, but also serves as an inconvenient reminder of the conflict overseas, as does their servant Viktorya (Sara Kmiec). Brothers Duncan (Tim Stone) and Arnold (Ricky Gee) display great affection, but also an ongoing conflict.
Each set of siblings, sisters and brothers, have their own rivalry going on. There’s a bit of a mystery in the playwright’s reason for choosing the title. What could it be? Gaesling is Danish for “young goose.” The family has a tradition of hunting geese each fall. And the deep denial of most of the family about their new circumstances recalls that old saying, “You silly goose!”
It’s a good ensemble cast, capably directed by Travis Walter. The script’s dramatic tension seems diffused, however, and the rather morose story lacks focus. The characters aren’t all that remarkable, either, despite the excellent efforts of the performers. The playwright’s material just does not give the actors or director enough bright spots of humor, or even pathos, to lend some interest.
Period furnishings by Jen Price Fick and wardrobe by Corey Collins lend authenticity, with music of the era courtesy of a grand old Victrola near center stage. The set is imposing, with its massive hewn beams, and the backdrop of skeletal trees suggesting lean times ahead.
The Snow Geese is on stage at Meadow Brook Theatre now through April 15.
Wednesdays – 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Thursdays and Fridays – 8 p.m.
Sundays – 2 p.m.
Saturday, April 7 – 6 p.m.
Sunday, April 8 – 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 14 – 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Tickets range in price, from $28 to $43. Meadow Brook Theatre is located on campus at Oakland University – 378 Meadow Brook Rd., Rochester Hills. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit mbtheatre.com.