Amazing Production at EPIC THEATRE ENSEMBLE, NYC: "Hold These Truths"
"We hold these truths to be self-evident," begins the production Hold These Truths which is now playing Off Off Broadway. (The venue is the Theatre at the 14th Street Y.) We know the second part of the statement from the Declaration of Independence, "... all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..." But are these truths self-evident, Gordon Hirabayashi, (played incisively by solo artist Joel de la Fuente) the hero of this powerful docu-drama asks?
It is a question the shining play beautifully written by Jeanne Sakata beckons us to consider as we experience the events surrounding Gordon Hirabayashi's quest for his "place in the sun" as a first generation Japanese American growing up in the West Coast culture of discrimination and hatred in the decades before and during WWII. The play chronicles the protagonist's attempts to negotiate the conflicts created by cultural heritage and hegemony and resist and overturn the untenable political and bureaucratic hypocrisy of lies and deceit which are brought to light decades later
As the play progresses we recognize that Hirabayashi's quest to realize the finest of American principles ended at his death in January 2012 when he was 93 and posthumously acclaimed as a Civil Rights hero. Where does that leave every living American? Our quest and struggle for freedom is ongoing,
With great hope Sakata allows Hirabayashi's words cobbled from interviews, transcripts, letters and articles to sing out with clarity and wisdom, encouraging us against resignation and despair to uphold the truth of our rights as citizens. Fuente's stirring, layered portrayal of Hirabayashi, and his spot-on ironic and humorous portrayals of Hirabayashi's parents, friends and people he meets along his journey propel us toward a mixture of emotions about this country's less than admirable treatment of its Japanese citizens and immigrants, reminding us that this could happen again if we are not careful. Lisa Rothe's excellent directing choices and Sakata's emotionally uplifting rendering of this heroic soul adhere flawlessly. The solo artist, playwright and director are the reasons this production resonates with vitality and power. This is what living, breathing theater is about. Unforgettable.
Hirabayashi, who President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in May 2012, was like many Japanese American citizens who lived during the black time of President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. They were subject to this law which authorized the U.S. military to exclude them from designated areas. This led to the creation of curfews and with little protest from civil rights groups, the government escalated its pressure upon Japanese citizens and immigrants as a vital war powers action. A month after 9066 was passed in 1942, the exclusion order (supported by the already entrenched West Coast anti-Japanese sentiments) in the name of war's expediency and under the guise of national security authorized the West Coast military command to racially imprison (euphemistically referred to as internment) in harsh, desolate camps 120,000 individuals, a majority of them (62%) American citizens of Japanese descent along, with Japanese immigrants.Continued on the next page