Vintage Theatre | Reviews
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Reviews

“Snow Falling on Cedars” Review by Adam Goldstein It’s tough not to feel at least a little invested in the Vintage Theatre’s production of “Snow Falling on Cedars.” That has a lot to do with atmosphere. Director Sam Wood stages the murder-mystery/courtroom-drama in the Vintage’s black box theater, an intimate space with a capacity of 80. During terse courtroom scenes, actors sit side-by-side with audience members and cry out at dramatic revelations. In the scenes set on the ships that navigate the waters around the fictional San Piedro Island in Washington state, Tim Barbiaux’s maritime set inescapably looms in the center of the space. The wooden beams and shallow pool of water at center stage make the ocean feel impossibly close. That feeling of immediacy helps keep this challenging drama afloat. Based on the award-winning novel by David Guterson, “Cedars” takes place in a fictional West Coast community in the decades leading up to World War II. A murder case against Kabuo Miyamoto (Dale Li) is the springboard for flashbacks that tell the story of a divided community. We learn of the struggles of Miyamoto’s family, Japanese-Americans deported to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We learn that Miyamoto’s wife, Hatsue (Arlene Rapal), had a taboo relationship with Ishmael Chambers (Benjamin Cowhick) before he was sent off to war and before her family went to the camps. We see that the family of the murder victim, Carl Heine Jr. (Brian Brooks), had a tense history with the Miyamotos over a question of land. All of these strains come together in a murder trial that raises questions of race, allegiance and the challenge of letting go of emotional scars. Apart from some clunky moments in the first act, Wood carves a graceful and moving path through a dense storyline. That journey finds fluency in some standout performances. Rapal and Cowhick offer strong emotion in bringing the backstory of Hatsue and Ishmael to life. As Nels Gudmundsson, Miyamoto’s public defender, Roger Simon offers gravity and insight. These performances help ground an intricate tale. Along with the staging and the ambiance, the effect is immersive.  ...

Shadowlands Review by Adam Goldstein The words of C.S. Lewis set out a tone of perseverance and patience very early in the Vintage Theatre company’s production of “Shadowlands.” Human suffering is a “megaphone to rouse a deaf world,” “God loves us, so he gives us the gift of suffering,” the British author and Christian theologian declares. What’s more, because mortal existence is merely a prequel to another world, “Real life has not begun yet.” We live in an unreal realm, shadow lands designed as a test for a greater purpose. These powerful words come via actor Verl Hite, who plays the demanding role of C.S. Lewis in this charming Vintage production. It’s clear from Hite’s first monologue that’s he’s up to the considerable challenge of a lead role in a demanding biographical drama.As the play progresses past the first lines on the nature of faith (presumably delivered by Lewis to an unseen class at Oxford), Hite remains the anchor in a show that suffers from some uneven moments. William Nicholson’s drama takes place in the 1950s and tracks the relationship between Lewis and Joy Davidman, an American poet played by Stephanie Schmidt. What starts as letters between an author and a fan blooms into romantic love and marriage. The crux of the drama here is a challenge to convictions. When Davidman is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Lewis’ theories about human suffering begin to unravel. As Lewis, Hite makes those theoretical struggles feel immediate and epic. His delivery is nuanced and sensitive, his approach to Lewis’ worldview is studied and exact. That delivery carries the drama through its slower moments. There’s a lot of dialogue in this drama, and some of the actors’ English accents are stronger than others. Any solid sense of time and place is elusive. Still, directors Craig Bond and Lorraine Scott have included charming touches to carry the central conflict of the show. Tobias Harding’s set of massive bookshelves hints at Lewis’ removed life in academia before he finds love. Wade Livingston’s performance as Lewis’ brother Warnie is a highlight, and Schmidt offers some touching moments as Davidman. All of these elements are secondary compared to Hite’s delivery as a philosopher forced to wrestle with the unanswerable questions and conflicts of the human heart....

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