BPA Stages ‘Snow Falling on Cedars,’ Hosts Presentation by David Guterson

Snow Falling on Cedars
“Kitamoto Family with Soldier” from the Seattle Post Intelligencer collection at the Museum of History and Industry.
(Photo courtesy Bainbridge Island Historical Society)

As an adjunct to BPA’s March presentation of “Snow Falling on Cedars,” Bainbridge Performing Arts will host author David Guterson for a special pre-show presentation on Sunday, March 22 at 1 p.m. Twenty years after the first publication of his book, Guterson will reflect back on the influences, ideals and ambitions that led to the writing and on what the book means to him now.

It took Guterson five years to write “Snow Falling on Cedars,” in part because he was teaching full time at Bainbridge High School, and in part because of the extensive research he did on salmon fishing, strawberry farming and the internment.

To describe the anti-Japanese hysteria that prevailed in the 1940s, he steeped himself in about 600 pages of oral histories compiled by elderly internees for the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Community Association. And while the fictitious San Piedro Island of “Snow Falling on Cedars” drifts at some distance from Bainbridge — on a real map of Puget Sound it would lie in the San Juan Islands — it is populated by some authentic Bainbridge characters.

David Guterson
David Guterson (Photo by Tom Collicott)

Guterson, then 39, received the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for the book, a remarkable achievement for a first novel. Even more remarkable was the fact that it went on to be not only a critical but also a commercial success: With more than 4 millions copies sold, it has generated a Hollywood film, a stage play and countless high school student essays.

Reading “Snow Falling on Cedars” 20 years later, Guterson encountered an unexpected mixture of emotions. He will share these, along with reflections on how the book was written, on March 22 before the matinee performance of the play.

This free community presentation will be hosted at the Bainbridge Performing Arts, 200 Madison Avenue North, Bainbridge Island. The presentation will be followed by an audience Q&A.

‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ on BPA Stage

Against the backdrop of an America torn by World War II, cultures and communities clash when a Japanese American islander is accused of murder. This hauntingly lyrical saga, adapted from Guterson’s novel, deftly shifts from courtroom to strawberry fields to bloody battlefront, digging for hard truths buried in a forgotten history.

Snow Falling on Cedars
Nels Gudmundsson (Tell Schreiber), Kabuo Miyamoto (Tim Takechi) and Art Moran (Rob Burke)
(Photo by Dominique Cantwell)

Set in 1954 in a Puget Sound community divided among fishermen and farmers, whites and Japanese, “Snow Falling on Cedars” is at once a courtroom drama, a mystery, a love story and, in flashbacks, a social history freighted with the angry residue of World War II and the exclusion of Japanese Americans.

The exclusion began on Bainbridge Island on March 30, 1942, when 227 men, women and children — two-thirds of them American citizens — were removed from their homes by U.S. Army soldiers and sent to relocation camps in the California desert.

While their departure was mourned by many of their neighbors, not all welcomed their return after the war. The exclusion and its aftermath thus form a crucial part of the island’s history as well as a reminder of the ongoing need for diversity, justice and vigilant protection of our civil and constitutional rights.

Director Kate Carruthers, who has multiple BPA directing credits, says, “If we don’t repeat these stories, we forget. The theater is where stories are meant to be shared, and the best theater grows out of the experiences of the originating community.”

Snow Falling on Cedars
Hatsue Miyamoto (Ruth Yeo-Peterman) and Ishmael Chambers (Craig Peterson)
(Photo by Dominique Cantwell)

Carruthers leads a stellar cast, including Craig Peterson, Ruth Yeo-Peterman, Tim Takechi, Tell Schreiber, Sam McJunkin, Anthony Gasbarri, Eva Burgeson, Shirley Oliver, Victoria Brown, Rob Burke, Austin Bennett, Barbara Wells ten Hove, Matt Eldridge, Christopher Wong and Rowan Lanning.

“Snow Falling on Cedars” appears at BPA March 13 – 29, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. plus Sundays at 3:00 p.m. and an Industry Night performance on Monday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m.

The Opening Night Reception is Friday, March 13 at 6:30 p.m. There will be a special “pay what you can” preview on Thursday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets, $27 for adults, $22 for seniors and $19 for students, youth, military and teachers, may be purchased online at www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org, by phone at 206-842-8569 or in person at BPA, 200 Madison Avenue North, Bainbridge Island. Box office hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and one hour prior to each performance.

Written by David Guterson “Snow Falling on Cedars” is adapted by Kevin McKeon and Book-It Repertory Theatre, and the play is performed through arrangement with Georges Borchardt, Inc., for David Guterson.