A murder trial pervades the regional premiere of SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS at TheatreWorks.
Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka

SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS: Based on the novel by David Guterson. Adapted for the stage by Kevin McKeon. Directed by Robert Kelley. TheatreWorks, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. (650) 463-1960 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (650) 463-1960 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or March 30-April 24, 2011.


Snow Falling on Cedars is the regional premiere of Kevin McKeon’s adaptation of the sprawling 350 page novel by David Guterson and director Robert Kelley has staged it with Herculean effort. Converting a book into a stage play is a daunting task and often needs a narrator to fill in gaps or just to carry the story line. In McKeon’s non-linear adaptation he uses multiple characters to step forward as narrators as they step back playing specific characters with spoken dialog. This creates a variation of Reader’s Theatre and act one feels like a didactic lecture. With the exception of four major roles, eight actors play 29 characters with questionable verisimilitude. However, act two is tightly written with touches of brilliance and pathos.

Snow Falling on Cedars is a love story, a mystery and a comment on social-political injustice to Japanese living in the Pacific Northwest before and after World War II. The Romeo and Juliet star crossed young couple are white third generation American Ishmael Chambers (Will Collyer) and first generation Japanese Hatsue Miyamoto (Maya Erskine) who have clandestine unrequited meetings expressing true love. Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the cloistered, hard working farming Japanese community lives in relative harmony with the whites. Fear, animosity and distrust overturn the ethnic balance as the Japanese are sent to internment Camps.

In the infamous Manzanar camp, Hatsue meets and marries Kabuo Miyamoto (Tim Chou) before he goes off the fight with 442nd Infantry Regiment, all Nisei Japanese who perform heroically in Italy. When the war ends and the inhabitants return Kabuo has a distinguish service medal, Ishmael, has lost his left arm and Hatsue has born a child. Within this milieu, old promises given and broken lead to deep animosity setting the conflict that starts a complicated series of events with Kabou accused of killing a former best friend Carl (Will Sprinhorn Jr.) as the gulf between Hatsue and Ishmael becomes intolerable.

The trial is the pivotal action of the play with taciturn Kabuo being evasive and the testimony of the villagers being vitriolic. Kelley deftly moves his characters like chess pieces allowing old pro Edward Sarafian playing Nels Gudmundsson, as Kabou’s defender, to rule the stage and have the last word expressing the true nature of the social injustice/racism with a brilliant curtain speech. In the words of Somerset Maugham, “between love and hate there is a line as sharp as the razor’s edge.” Will Collyer and Maya Erskine give full meaning to that line with heart tugging meetings in Act two. The always reliable Mark Anderson Phillips as the prosecutor, has the unenviable task of playing opposite the scene stealing, audience favorite Sarafian and comes off second best.

There are a number of memorable performances by this very able cast that includes Anne Darragh, Mia Tagano, Randall Nakano, Molly Benson and Kevin Rolston. Andrea Bechert’s multi-area set was a bit stubborn on a Sunday matinee but adds depth to the story line with its brooding atmosphere as snow gently falls on the backstage scrim. Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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