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Friday, January 22, 2010
Snow Falling on Cedars at PCS
When Snow Falling on Cedars first appeared on bookstore shelves in the '90s, for some reason I wrote it off as dumb trade fiction, another in a long line of sappy romance novels. I never bothered to delve into it any further and skipped the film adaptation with Ethan Hawke. While the story does involve a love triangle, there's much more to it than that.
On a foggy night in 1954, fisherman Kabuo Miyamoto's boat pulls up alongside another belonging to a stranded colleague named Carl Heine. Their respective families have been involved in a dispute over a strawberry farm for years. The next day, Carl's corpse will be pulled out of the sea wrapped in his own net.
What follows is a pretty fascinating work of historical fiction that covers the decade following World War 2 and the lingering suspicion and ill-will that festers in the novel's San Juan island community between its residents of European ancestry and those who spent the war trapped in Japanese internment camps. A theatrical adaptation developed by Seattle's Book-It Rep had its world premiere at the Gerding Theater last week and easily rises to the challenge of bringing the story to the stage.
The adaptation covers nearly 30 years of interwoven history and the performers deftly make swift transitions across time, sometimes within the same scene. Kabuo's wife Hatsue, played wonderfully by Olvia Oguma, and Vince Nappo's Ishmael occasionally jump between court room scenes in the '50s and into their years growing up together on the island decades prior.
As intriguing as the court room drama and the play's racial dynamics are, what really brings it together is the heartbreaking relationship between Hatsue and Ishmael, the events that tear them apart and the decision Ishmael is forced to make in its final scenes. Surprisingly enough, the romantic elements, which chased me away from David Guterson's novel, are what really got to me.
Snow Falling on Cedars makes the trip from page to stage smoothly but the cast relies on pantomime throughout the performance. For the most part, it's never a distraction but there are a few moments when it doesn't work well, most notably in an early scene where authorities discover Carl's body. Still, it's a great show and the best Portland Center Stage production I've seen since last spring's Crazy Enough.