Jeanne Sakata’s eloquent play depicting the personal history of Gordon HIrabayashi, who took his battle against the internment of United States citizens of Japanese descent all the way to the Supreme Court, is excellent political theatre. The title, “Hold These Truths” is telling. It is not a declaration, but a command. It reminds us that we must “hold these truths”—they will not hold themselves.
Gordon Hirabayashi was 24 years old, a recent graduate of the University of Washington, and a committed Quaker pacifist when the infamous Executive Order 9066 was promulgated by the Roosevelt administration, requiring the evacuation from their homes and prison camp internment for Japanese American citizens. Even the great progressive figure Earl Warren, then California’s Attorney General, was in favor of this shocking injustice.
Hirabayashi was one of only three Japanese Americans who challenged the discriminationeventually taking the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where they lost. It wasn’t until 1987, that Hirabayashi’s conviction was overturned and the laws acknowledged to be unconstitutional.
One of Hirabayashi’s statements on his case is chillingly applicable to our current political situation:
“If you think the Constitution is a good one, and if you think the Constitution protects you, you better make sure that the Constitution is actively operating … in other words, “constant vigilance”. Otherwise, it’s a scrap of paper. We had the Constitution to protect us in 1942. It didn’t because the will of the people wasn’t behind it.”
Today, we still have the Constitution to protect us against a rogue Presidency or political party, but will the people consider it more than a scrap of paper? Time will tell, as more and more evidence accrues of the crimes against the Constitution committed by the Trump administration, and the cover-up efforts of the Trump wing of the Republican Party.
But I digress.
“Hold These Truths” is an excellent piece of historical education, introducing all the relevant facts for a full understanding of the internment scandal and the shameful failure of our Supreme Court to defend the Constitution. But that alone does not make great theatre.
The beating heart of “Hold These Truths” is the passionate characterization of a great and eloquent man who made great sacrifices to fight for the principles in which he believed. It is not the story alone that makes this a wonderful theatrical event, but the character as well.
In an astonishing solo performance, Jomar Tagatac brings a myriad of characters to life, as Gordon describes and impersonates his family, his girlfriend, his University classmates, prison guards and police officers, politicians, and bystanders. Tagatac is simply amazing.
On a set consisting of two chairs he takes us on a journey that includes his childhood home, his time at the University, prison cells, highways, and courtrooms.
He holds our attention like a magnet, provoking laughter, tears, curiosity, indignation, and full engagement. The time flies.
“Hold These Truths” is not only a great bit of didactic theatre that educate and informs, but a moving and entertaining emotional roller coaster.
It gets my highest recommendation.
“Hold These Truths” may be seen live at the San Francisco Playhouse, or by on-demand video, through July 3, 2021. For further information click here.
Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
‘Hold These Truths’ by Jeanne Sakata. Presented by SF Playhouse. Director: Jeffrey Lo. Scenic and Costume Designer: Christopher Fitzer. Lighting Designer: Heather Kenyon. Sound Designer: Teddy Hulsker. Properties Designer: Christopher Fitzer. Properties and Projecdtions Designer: Teddy Hulsker. Stage Manager: Sarah Marie Selig.
Gordon Hirabayashi: Jomar Tagatac.