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Aisle View: Geese Fly South

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Two over-privileged siblings sit in a duck blind squabbling so fiercely that they are oblivious when a gaggle of snow geese -- their designated prey -- fly above. It is late 1917, just after the United States has declared war on Germany and just before the elder brother ships out for overseas. The End of an Era. We are at a hunting lodge just outside Syracuse, N.Y., handed down by a Gilded Age millionaire to his grandson -- the boys' recently deceased father, whom they have just discovered left them all in bankruptcy. The End of an Era. Amidst all this weighty period stuff and loads of Chekhovian chat, it turns out that the younger son is upset because mom loves the other brother best.

So goes The Snow Geese, the new Mary-Louise Parker/Daniel Sullivan/Manhattan Theatre Club play by Sharr White. White made a strong showing at MTC in January with the intriguing The Other Place, with a powerful star performance by Laurie Metcalf. (The Other Place, like The Snow Geese, was a joint production with MCC Theater.) Parker, Sullivan and MTC memorably joined together in 2000 for Proof, David Auburn's tip-top Pulitzer/Tony-winner. The Snow Geese has lots of ideas and lots of acting floating around, but in a top-heavy manner. The hidden secrets that hold up this tottering house are not uninteresting, once Mr. White finally gets to them. By that point, though, many in the audience will be all talked out.

The problem seems to be at the play's center. Victoria Clark (as the heroine's moralistic sister) and Danny Burstein (as Clark's husband, a doctor who has been violently rejected by his "friends" due to his German heritage) give strong performances in interesting roles. The two sons, Evan Jonigkeit as the golden boy and Brian Cross as the practical brother left behind to clean up the family mess, keep up their end while Jessica Love -- as the Ukrainian refugee in the kitchen -- is perhaps the most refreshing of the group.

The Lady of the House -- wife, mother, sister and all-round queen of the Gaeslings of Syracuse -- is missing. She is on stage, yes, in the person of Ms. Parker, in what is clearly the leading role. But the character is as indistinct as those shadowy snow geese that the projection man launches during the hunting scene. (The scenery is well conceived by the ever-reliable John Lee Beatty, paired--for the umpteenth time -- with expert costume designer Jane Greenwood.)

Burstein and Clark give the illusion of playing real people up there, but Parker -- who is every bit as accomplished a performer -- doesn't seem to connect with the other characters or the audience. Is it the role? The performance? The writing? Whatever the problem may be, it leaves this Snow Geese foundering.