For those who are interested in what happened here in the US in the 40’s when those in power decided that an entire ethnic group was a danger to society, the playwright Jeanne Sakata manages to illustrate it beautifully in just 90 minutes with one actor playing more than 20 different roles in a powerful new play called “Hold These Truths.” It’s the story of Gordon Hirabayashi, a second-generation Japanese American, who defied the curfew placed on all alien and non-alien persons of Japanese ancestry after the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor. Gordon was attending the University of Washington when he decided that he could not comply with these orders on principle and took the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
It’s also a story of how the Quakers (one of the only groups to offer help to the Japanese American community) came to his aid when nearly all civil rights organizations had abandoned his case, even the American Civil Liberties Union.
I’m not a theater critic, but I have been to enough performances and have had to go through enough arts events as an editor and producer at NPR to know when I’ve seen something very special. Greg Watanabe’s portrayal of Gordon brings to the audience a taste of what it was like to be Japanese American in the American west not that far in the distant past. He shows us how his decision to defy government orders came at a great personal cost but without losing his sense of humor or ultimately his optimism for his country. He shows us how there is more than one way to fight for your country and what it stands for, especially when those rights and liberties were being tossed out as an inconvenience. The other factor that makes one aware that one was seeing something rare was the fact that an Asian face was playing everything and everyone on the stage, convincingly, from his mother to General John DeWitt, switching from one to the other, sometimes in one sentence. He makes it clear that he can and should play anything and anyone.
On the writing of this review, the play will have closed at the New Century Theatre in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where it was in production for too brief a time.
Here is the review that a friend sent that got me off my behind and to the theater ASAP:
I’m glad I caught it just in time. The production will be moving to other cities, Washington, DC to name one, in the near future, so if you find that it is playing near you, I would grab a ticket right away.
My Yellow Bowl Project hopes to spur discussion around these questions: Who is an American? What does citizenship mean? How long do you have to be in the US to be considered a bonafide member of this group?