“SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS” AT HARTFORD STAGE


By Tom Holehan

 The earnest, well-intentioned but ultimately overstuffed novel-to-stage adaptation of David Guterson’s bestseller, “Snow Falling on Cedars”, is the current tenant at Hartford Stage.  The theatre is getting a reputation as of late in presenting theatrical versions of notable literature.  With varying degrees of success we’ve recently witnessed such classics as “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Tom Sawyer” as well as Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” on the boards in Hartford.
 
Adapted for the stage by Kevin McKeon, “Snow Falling on Cedars” centers on a 1954 courtroom drama, tinged with racism, with plenty of flashbacks from the 1940s.  On trial is young Asian fisherman Kabuo (a charismatic Brian Tee) who is charged with the murder of his childhood friend, a white man.  He is married to Hatsue (Kimiye Corwin) who previously had a secret love affair with the town’s white newspaper reporter, Ishmael (Dashiell Eaves).  Ishmael is still in love with Hatsue and becomes directly involved in the murder case when he finds information pointing to Kabuo’s innocence.
 
Guterson’s novel smoothly intertwined past and present and neatly balanced the trial sequences with a murder mystery and a forbidden love story.  This stage version turns into a very busy production with numerous short scenes strung together and Takeshi Kata’s not-always-successful scenic design straining to accommodate all the activity.

With the exception of Mr. Tee, who does an admirable job transitioning between love-struck suitor to stoic murder suspect, and Ms. Corwin, who exudes sensitivity and sensuality in equal measure, most of the casting here is lackluster.  The crucial role of Ishmael is played flatly by Mr. Eaves who shares little chemistry with Corwin.  Broadway veteran Tom Mardirosian, in the potentially scene-stealing role of Kabuo’s court-appointed attorney, seemed distracted and under-rehearsed on opening night while other actors, unable to convincingly portray one character, are saddled with multiple roles. 
    
Director Jeremy B. Cohen attempts to move this tedious drama with a sense of pace and tension, but as courtroom thrillers go, it all seems longer than the O.J. trial.  Jess Goldstein has done a commendable job with the various period costumes and the original music and sound design by Broken Chord Collective – who also did splendid work on “Tom Sawyer” – achieves equal success with this venture.  But to what end?  In 1999 a film version of “Snow Falling on Cedars” starring Ethan Hawke drew lethal reviews and landed with a thud at the box office.  Perhaps this particular story would have done well to stay within the dust jacket.    
              
 “Snow Falling on Cedars” continues at Hartford Stage through Sunday, February 13.  For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers on 1.26.11


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