theater (reviews)

review: hold these truths

Hold These Truths

by Jeanne Sakata
Directed by Lisa Rothe
Featuring Joel de la Fuente
Epic Theatre @ Theatre at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street
October 22, 2012 (opening) — November 18, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
October 21, 2012

Joel del la Fuente. Image released by Glenna Freedman Public Relations.

One person plays examining social intolerance, legal oppression, court cases, familial histories can sometimes be heavy-handed. It takes a deft dramatic hand to craft moving theatre out of social history and courtroom drama, and a nuanced actor to portray the passage of time and multiple characters. The Epic Theatre production of Jeanne Sakata‘s Hold These Truths reveals just such deftness of hand and actor nuance. Moving, instructive, thrilling intermissionless history lesson about America’s internment of her Japanese citizens during World War II and the resistance of some individuals to this legal mandate.  Travel downtown to be inspired by script, actor, and history in equal measure.

Joel de la Fuente is Gordon Hirabayashi, first generation Japanese American, son of a truck driver, oldest of several sons, who refused as a University of Oregon student to agree to move to one of the internment camps set up under Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in February 1942.  De la Fuente convincingly portrays Hirabayashi as a teenager, as a young adult, and as a man in his sixties who resisted a law based on fear of citizens who had ties to a country with which the U.S. was suddenly at war. (He also portrays his father, his mother, college friends, a prison warden, and a host of others with great delicacy.) Hirabayashi’s legal case was based on the grounds that the 1942 Executive Order violated the 5th Amendment, which prohibits the seizure of property and rights without due process of law. It took several decades for Hirabasyashi’s case to be resolved in his favor.  His journey, across mountains and deserts, through degree programs and marriage and children and a teaching career in several countries, is the journey of an important American historical figure.

The experience of this piece of theatre is that life story and more — culled to its human and emotional essence, we hold Hirabayashi’s story as we must all “hold these truths.” Our country’s Constitution is only as strong as our fellow citizens’ resolve to defend it.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 25, 2012)

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