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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Snow Falling on Cedars
Hartford Stage

Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson's novel, is symphonic, moving, and graceful. Kevin McKeon's stage adaptation, as it continues at Hartford Stage through February 13th, is admirable and capable. The production, attempting to honor the fiction, struggles to include much of the original writing and character interface while compressing it all into two and one half hours of theater.

The action, moving backward and forward in time sequences, takes place on San Pedro Island off the coast of Washington in Puget Sound. During the years following World War II, Carl  Heine, Jr. (Mark Watson) returns home. Ishmael Chambers (Dashiell Eaves), about the same age, grew up on the island with Hatsue Imada (Kimiye Corwin). She ended a potential relationship with Ishamel and later came to marry Kabuo Miyamoto (Brian Tee).  Etta Heine (Kate Levy), Carl's mother, doesn't care for Japanese. Her husband died and Etta sold their land to Ole Jurgensen. Kabuo, upon returning from the war, remembered that the land had originally been in his family and hoped to claim it. Carl, arriving sooner, already had plans to purchase the property.  Carl was out fishing one night in 1954 and his boat, running low on power, was in trouble. Kabuo, finding him, helped Carl to safety.  Carl decided to sell the land to Kabuo. However, Carl perished in an accident and Kabuo was suspected of murdering him. Much of the Hartford Stage rendering, directed with both imagination and specificity by Jeremy B. Cohen, focuses upon the courtroom drama as Kabuo's guilt or innocence is pivotal. The more romantic aspects of the novel are not fully realized.

That this team of artists, director and designers have managed to develop a coherent, sometimes commanding (especially during the second act) show from the material is truly commendable. Kevin McKeon has previously adapted novels and is obviously skilled. Cohen, at Hartford Stage for seven years, is familiar with the space and makes the most of it. Eight members of the twelve person cast take on multiple roles.  Kate Levy, as Etta Heine, Mrs. Chambers, and also Dr. Whitman (a trial witness) is adept, versatile, and convincing—terrific work.

Still, it feels as if the puzzle pieces of this mystery are wedged into the play so that nothing can be excluded. Through the process, though, the jury trial becomes predominant. The intimate relationships are not fully developed. If they were, running time for the play would increase greatly. Or, one might have made the choice to edit. In the latter case, once again, a portion of the fiction would be abridged.

Theatergoers are challenged to keep alert to see which performers, through costumer Jess Goldstein's fine choices, move from one persona to the next and, sometimes, to the next. Takeshi Kata's scenic design is engaging as Kata must shift from, to cite one example, courtroom to fishing boat. The overall facilitation, with Cohen coordinating the elements, is excellent.

The second portion of the play brings various threads together. We learn about Ishmael's loss of an arm. Brian Tee, as Kabuo Miyamoto, provides an understanding, persuasive performance. Throughout the evening, characters often provide narrative in the first person to provide linkage. The device is certainly effective but works against smooth flow.

Snow Falling on Cedars is a successful yet imperfect production. Hartford Stage and Jeremy B. Cohen, in particular, should be applauded. The transfer of  the novel to live performance is not easily achieved. Whether it might have been advisable to actually eliminate plot points or details remains open to question.

Snow Falling on Cedars continues at Hartford Stage through February 13th. For ticket information, call (860) 527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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