Snow Falling on Cedars -- Don’t judge the book by the play

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

Toward the end of the first act of SnowFalling on Cedars at Hartford Stage Company we turned to each other and whispered, almost simultaneously, “This is awfully long.” and after the play was over we realized that length was not its only fault.

To begin with the play, adapted from David Guterson’s book by Kevin McKeon and directed by Jeremy B. Cohen, not only seemed long but was also tediously unmoving.  Having not read the book but relying on general observations about it, we had been looking forward to an emotional presentation of events. Cedars as a play takes place nearly a decade after World War II and supposedly deals with the relations between the white and Japanese-American communities on one of the islands in Puget Sound.

As the play unravels, these communities have lived through the days of internment camps and widespread anti-Japanese war hysteria.  Kabuo Miyamoto (Brian Tee) is charged with murder and his wife’s spurned lover, Ishmael (Dashiell Eaves), holds the information that could set him free. Against this we are supposed to see the community’s secret prejudices, jealousies and ancient grievances. Frankly we didn’t see that.

But the initial problem is that the adapter, McKeon, failed to translate the prose novel into a theatrical experience.  What he has done is tell us a lot as the author, Guterson, probably does in the novel instead of dramatizing the information. Furthermore he seems to include much information that in the long run seems unnecessary.  There are, for example, war scenes that just add to the tediousness of the production.

Additionally, it is very hard to keep track of the performers and the parts they are supposed to be playing since several of them play more than one role and there is very little offered to distinguish each role.

The play turns on the love affair between Hatsue Imada (Kimiye Corwin) and Ishmael whose budding romance is aborted by, among other things, the internment of the Japanese-Americans and her turning inward and marrying Kabuo Miyamoto. The couple has a child and he’s become a fisherman since his family’s land has been bought and sold. The issue of Kabuo’s resentment becomes relevant when a childhood friend who now is buying the land dies in a boating accident and Kabuo is accused of his murder.

So the plot twists and turns; probably in the novel it is easily presented and understood.  Not so in this play.

Also, unfortunately, the love affair that seems to be so important never really grabs the audience’s emotions.  Ishmael’s continued desire for Hatsue despite her changed status doesn’t really affect the viewer probably because the value of that feeling is lost in the activities that precede the presentation of it.

As if this isn’t enough to sink Cedars one of the areas that Hartford Stage is noted for,  setting, is a mishmash and in fact draws attention to itself  by the various and precarious  sloping boards on which several of the scenes take place as the audience can only anticipate a disaster occurring.

We have not read the novel and probably will not but rest assured based upon our experience with other critical evaluations we certainly will not judge the novel by this play. You shouldn’t either.

Snow Falling on Cedars is at Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church St., through Feb. 13. For tickets and information call the box office at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org.

This review appeared in Shore Publications.


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