Jeanne Sakata Summons Supreme Court Struggle
by Evelyn Arevalo
reviewed live at TheatreWorks, on July 26, 2018
Playwright Jeanne Sakata brings to life the terrors of the U.S. Japanese concentration camps during WWII in a gripping one man show. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal and relocation of American citizens to these camps. Gordon Hirabayashi, born in Seattle, stood up against these unconstitutional camps in the 40s.
As Hirabayashi, Joel de la Fuente articulates his righteous, vibrant, and reasoned anger. De la Fuente’s riveting performance is interrupted by sudden blaring broadcast news, making us tense with anticipation. The U.S. wants the Japanese Americans gone!
Onstage, we see only four wooden chairs and a suspended window hanging over the vermilion backdrop. A white lamp floats above, like a milky moon. Lighting Designer Cat Tate Starmer has created a surreal palette, blending a stunning pattern of colors.
TheatreWorks’ “Hold These Truths,” still relevant and timely, questions the continuing violations of human rights in the U.S. In the 40s, the victims were Japanese American citizens, and today, it’s Central American children in cages. When will the U.S. stop ostracizing people because of race and imagined violations?
Hirabayashi’s story takes us from early memories, impressively told in both English and Japanese. De la Fuente takes on multiple roles, voices, and mannerisms. He transforms himself into parents, friends, and foes–from a young man to a hunched older man.
Playwright Sakata captures Japanese pride and culture, using proverbs and lyrical language. “Hold These Truths” begins and ends with a Japanese proverb: “The nail who sticks out will be hit by the hammer.” As a self identified Quaker, Hirabayashi is the only one from his Seattle community who refuses to go to the U.S. internment camps–defying his mother and father.
Gordon fights up his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but discovers that his U.S. citizenship is worthless. The Court refuses to acknowledge him as a human with equal rights. His citizenship does not get him a job, assure his quality of life, or let him pursue his happiness. Being an American turns out to be worthless because of his race!
The real life story of Gordon Hirabayashi sheds light on one man’s struggle to validate his country’s laws and claims of equality. Decades later, the Congress finally acknowledged the cruel mistakes and oppression. Lyrical, poignant, and at times humorous, Gordon and “Hold These Truths” teach us that in order to have rights, we must assert our rights!
“Hold These Truths” by Jeanne Sakata, directed by Lisa Rothe, reviewed at Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto, in 2018. Streaming at: TheatreWorks.org
Cast: Joel de la Fuente