I went down to the Nevada Theater to see the "California premiere" of the stage adaptation of the marvelous book Snow Falling on Cedars (David Guterson). The book and the play are the story of a murder trial set in the years just after World War II, exposing the prejudices and fears of a small town in northwest Washington State, full of fishermen and strawberry pickers. It was an island with a certain level of isolation until the war comes and exposes the undercurrents that have been hidden in the community of descendants of Europeans and of Japanese.
There is also a love story in there. In the book, the moral decision that must be made by a broken man with important evidence is used to mirror the conflict and hope (or lack thereof) for the future state of American race relations. The play focuses much more on the surface prejudice that is brought out by the trial. It might just be a trick of the lights, where seeing the characters embodied (as opposed to created from whole-cloth in my mind, where I tended to give everyone (except the old lady who is outright malicious) a bit more slack) changes my feeling for some of the motivations. For example, the play made Carl's state of mind and interaction with the defendant much more suspect than in my reading of the book. Also, the physical relationship between Hatsue and Ishmael is toned down for the play, but the action seemed to make it seem a bit less consensual.
My biggest worry about seeing the play was how the playwright could possibly handle the lush descriptive language of the book. And this turns into the most interesting aspect of this adaptation: from the beginning, the actors spend a lot of time reciting descriptive passages from the book, moving seamlessly from narrative recitation to character dialogue. Although I would have liked to have actually seen some snow, I think this was an effective approach for bringing the book's language into the play. The overall effect was of a courtroom drama in Our Town style, because not only were there easy transitions between descriptive narrative and dialogue, there was also in place transition between the courtroom and the scenes ostensibly being described by the testimony. And that was very much what the book felt like, so kudos to the production for that.
Unfortunately, in the end I think the play just sort of peters out. Ishmael's final decision-making is dramatic, but after this there isn't a good enough speech or scene to provide a final burst of energy or a nice wrapping to the overall play, and so we just kind of fade away. I don't completely blame this on the play; in trying to remain faithful to the book, the play isn't given something effective to work with for a dramatic period on the beautiful paragraphs provided up to the end.
Vann Dart provides a standout performance as the aging defense attorney. I like his energy and his delivery.
Scott Young also provided a strong imaging of Carl. It must be hard to be a dead guy! His scenes were strong and I think he did an excellent job showing the conflict of emotions when dealing with his mother's prejudice and the fight between his memories of childhood and his memories of the war.
In this performance, Hatsue's two suitors are really overwhelmed by Lyra Dominguez's strong woman with difficult decisions to make. While the book seemed to be Ishmael's story, this play was all about Hatsue. Lyra did an excellent job moving through her ages and in working through her conflicts about family responsibility and attraction vs. love.
Diane Fetterly moved well between portrayal's of Carl's and Ishmael's mothers, two very different characters. I'd have liked to have her accent (as Etta) feel more obviously Germanic (while whoever was playing Leonard could have toned down the brogue a few notches).
Las night's presentation was in benefit of the library and was sold out. (Yay, library!) However, there are still performances. I recommend this play. If you're going, though, try to get closer to the front (I as in the next to the last row in the corner), because the actors as a whole were a little weak with projection.