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Theater Review: “Hold These Truths”

Photo credit:
Chris Bennion

 American democracy is one of the greatest political systems the world has ever devised, granting freedoms (and responsibilities) to its citizens that are paralleled in few other areas of the world.

But that “shining city on the hill” has a few dark spots as well, brought about by those old bugaboos fear and loathing. 

Playwright Jeanne Sakata’s “Hold These Truths” is the story of Gordon Hirabayashi, a Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) born in the U.S., who was ordered to evacuate his California home with his family in the anti-Japanese hysteria following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

At the time, he was a college student just wanting to finish school and go to work, but he and his family (along with 110,000 other West Coast Japanese) found themselves ordered to leave their homes for barbed-wire enclosures that would keep America “safe.”

Gordon waved goodbye to his family and refused to evacuate, writing a letter citing the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Arrested and jailed, he later serving time in a road camp in Tucson.

Meanwhile, his case wound its way through the court system. It finally reached the Supreme Court, which denied him the justice he deserved. It took 40 more years for him to be cleared of all charges.

This American hero died in 2012 at the age of 93, and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

When actor Sakata, herself a sansei (third-generation Japanese American) heard about Hirabayashi, she wanted to write his story. After hours of interviews, the result was her first play, “Hold These Truths.”

Directed by Jessica Kubzansky, the show has traveled the country for a dozen years, often featuring the terrific Korean American actor Ryun Yu. Yu is now in San Diego performing the show through Dec. 8 at San Diego Repertory’s Space Theatre.\

The timing couldn’t be better, as we watch our country – built by refugees – trying to get rid of today’s refugees by deportation, denial of entry or confinement in concentration camp-like detention pens, and rescinding advantages previously granted to “dreamers.

”Yu is a captivating onstage presence, and Sakata has given him much more than a “poor me” piece. “Hold These Truths” not only shows Gordon’s fierce determination and dedication, but also his wit and humor as he plays the other characters in his life. My favorite is his mother, who took no guff and must have been quite a pistol herself.

Denied at every turn, Yu’s Hirabayashi refused to give up on the Constitution he revered all his life. It is a privilege to spend 90 minutes in the presence of Yu’s riveting portrayal of this true American hero.

The details

“Hold These Truths” plays through December 8, 2019 at San Diego Repertory’s Space Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. (variable; check with theater).