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Bruce Katzman and Melissa Chalsma in The Snow Geese at Independent Studio (Photo by Grettel Cortes)
Bruce Katzman and Melissa Chalsma in The Snow Geese at Independent Studio (Photo by Grettel Cortes)

The Snow Geese

Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Independent Shakespeare Co.
Through April 9th

Sharr White’s play, The Snow Geese, is clearly inspired by such classics as The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard and is trying to be an American equivalent, which is an admirable undertaking. Unfortunately, naming one’s play after waterfowl doesn’t make one Chekhov. Central to the problem is a trio of main characters who are so unsympathetic that one never particularly cares about their tragedy. A West Coast premiere, this production by Independent Shakespeare Co. has a few good performances, but overall it could best be described as shouty.

In 1917, the Gaesling family has retreated to their upstate New York hunting lodge, hoping to get one last hunt in before oldest son Duncan (Evan Lewis Smith) heads off to war. Matriarch Elizabeth (Melissa Chalsma) is barely holding it together after her husband’s death a few months earlier, and is being attended by her religious sister, Clarissa (Bernadette Sullivan). Clarissa and her German-born doctor husband Max (Bruce Katzman), along with their new Ukrainian refugee maid Viktorya (Kelean Ung), are living with the Gaeslings after anti-German sentiment drove them from their own home. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s youngest son Arnold (Nikhil Pai) is desperately trying to tell anyone who will listen that the Gaesling family is broke.

Chalsma brings some subtle character shadings to the self-centered Elizabeth, resulting in a touching scene with her sons towards the play’s end. But her vocal delivery is sometimes so loud it becomes painful to endure in the small theatre space. Smith never seems to completely connect with his role as the cocksure, charismatic Duncan, while Pai does what he can with Arnold, who is essentially written as a one-note angry character.  Katzman and Ung excel in their roles, to the extent that one wishes the play had been centered upon them, while Sullivan brings a nice deadpan humor to her performance.

David Melville’s direction gleans some good work from his ensemble, but he’s constrained by the middling quality of White’s play. One moment seems particularly ludicrous. A family argument reduces one member to falling upon his knees and holding his head and crying out as if he’s losing his mind, with his cries amplified by the sound of hundreds of snow geese flying overhead. The scene is so over-the-top that it almost plays as comedy. The playwright’s dialogue is largely overwrought and the play wants an emotional response from the audience it doesn’t earn.

White is a talented playwright — his play The Other Place is brilliant. This show, however, seems like a pastiche of Chekhov without the depth or originality of its inspiration.

 

Independent Studio, 3191 Casitas Ave., #168, Atwater Village; Thur.- Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.; through April 9. www.iscla.org. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

 

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