Those drawn to "The Snow Geese" for the star at the center of it, Mary-Louise Parker, might be disappointed to discover a vulnerable, careless woman whose demons have been exposed after the untimely death of her husband. It won't come as a surprise, though, for those who saw playwright Sharr White's other Broadway play earlier this year, "The Other Place." A common thread runs between those two plays about the mania that follows the loss of a loved one.
In "Geese," Parker plays Elizabeth Gaesling who has her upper-class standing challenged by realities of WWI and her deceased husband's incompetence with finances. That's just where her problems begin, however. Elizabeth gathers together what's left of her family at their second home in the upstate woods for a shooting event that will both honor her husband and, she hopes, bring back the good times. Unfortunately, there's only so much Elizabeth can control.
The set is magnificent, a lodge that feels both quaint, yet sizable, a place where people can spread out but still hang around long enough to get on each other's nerves. John Lee Beatty imbues it with the elegance that it calls for, leaving the audience with a sense throughout that this is the last time this family will be together at this beautiful place. There, at least at the start, they feel safe and secure thanks to Daniel Sullivan's directorial direction.
Elizabeth's sister, Clarissa (played by Victoria Clark), and her husband, Max (Danny Burstein) join Elizabeth and her two sons because they, too, have fallen on some hard luck due to the effects of the war. The real drama of this production plays out in Elizabeth's skewed relationships with her two sons, one of whom she pampers and elevates, the other whom she berates and ignores. It's hard to tell when Elizabeth's problems actually began, and whether she is truly in touch with reality much of the time. Her condition doesn't seem to get worse, only to be magnified more by those around her.
We walk into these people's lives during a tough time, and there's only a glimmer of hope that things may turn out alright for this family. As Elizabeth dreams of her husband's reemergence, Parker shows off her acting chops. It's a scene that sits tangential to the drama taking place around it, but it lends incredible insight into Elizabeth's troubled mind and heartbroken soul. To some degree, the play could use more of those moments, where Elizabeth appears to be alone, but is much more alive in those moments than at any other point in the play. They also give the audience a chance to marvel at what talent Parker brings when the stage clears and makes way for her.