The time could not be riper for Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths to make its powerful, compelling, inspiring Pasadena Playhouse debut, the extraordinary tale of one American’s fight for his inalienable rights at a time when his own government wished to deny them.

Ryun Yu gives one of the year’s most dazzling performances as real-life hero Gordon Hirabayashi, a U.S. born citizen in his early twenties when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, an attack that led to the forced internment of more than 80,000 United States citizens (and an additional 40,000 or so U.S. residents) simply because of their race.

Unlike his parents, siblings, and the rest of Washington State’s Japanese-American community, Hirabayashi refused to submit to orders he considered unconstitutional, a case that eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court not once but twice.

From early childhood memories (the realization that that he was “other” merely for bathing in an outdoor ofuro, the sight of signs announcing “No Japs allowed,” being told by his father that he must never ever talk back to a white man) to falling in love with cute blonde co-ed Esther Schmoe while “majoring in extracurricular activities” at the U.W., to a New York City visit that opened his eyes to a world without prejudice, Gordon Hirabayashi’s reminiscences both fascinate and inform.

Then came Pearl Harbor, and despite his certainty that the United States Constitution would protect U.S. citizens regardless of their country of origin, Gordon soon learned that anyone with 1/16 or more “Jap” blood was considered the enemy.

Families were given one week to sell all their possessions, leave their homes, and relocate to hot, dusty camps where they lived behind barbed wire and slept in horses’ stalls.

And this was only the beginning of Gordon Hirabyashi’s journey, a story that could just as easily have made for a movie or miniseries or multi-performer play, but which Hold These Truths recounts with one single extraordinary actor playing over three-dozen roles, from Gordon’s Japanese-speaking parents to his eclectic band of college buddies to the lawyers on both sides of his case to the Hopi Indians he met in jail to a folksy, friendly Arizona prison boss who sent him off to the air-conditioned comfort of the local movie house while he located Gordon’s missing paperwork.

Hold These Truths reunites Sakata, Yu, and director Jessica Kubzansky from its 2007 East West Players World Premiere (as Dawn’s Light: The Journey Of Gordon Hirabayashi) in a production that has only grown richer and more relevant over the past decade.

Kubzansky utilizes every inch of Ben Zamora’s striking, nearly bare set and its mere three chairs in ever more ingenious ways, aided by Zamora’s evocative lighting, Soojin Lee’s subtly morphing costume design, and above all by John Zalewski’s sensational sound design, one that allows us to imagine what we cannot see simply from what we hear.

Hold These Truths is produced in association with East West Players. Jill Gold is production stage manager and Phil Gold is stage manager. Joe Witt is general manager, Brad Enlow is technical director, and Chris Cook is production manager.

Gripping and suspenseful and peppered with both laughter and tears, Hold These Truths honors Gordon Hirabayashi’s battles, celebrates his ultimate victory, and reminds us of how much still needs to be done, now more than ever. It is far more than a solo performance. It is theater at its most enriching and transcendent.

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Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
June 4, 2017
Photos: Jim Cox Photography


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