02 Dec Snow Falling Review
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.