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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Hold These Truths
By Macey Levin
Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts is currently offering an intriguing and graphic biographical one-man play, Hold These Truths by Jeanne Sakata, at the St. Germain Theatre depicting the courageous experiences of Gordon Hirabayashi who challenged the government's inhumane and prejudicial actions. He conducted a lifelong campaign from his college dorm room to the Supreme Court, ultimately leading to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
After encountering incessant racism in his hometown of Seattle, the daily prejudice was exacerbated by the attack on Pearl Harbor. In March of 1942 all Japanese on the west coast were to be transported to internment camps regardless of their citizenship status. Hirabayashi (Joel de la Fuente) refuses to follow the orders and cites as his defense the United States Constitution‘s requirement of due process of law. He wonders why this paranoia and unlawful incarceration doesn't apply to German and Italian citizens. The Constitution is ignored by the appalling hypocritical government officials from President Roosevelt and the Supreme Court down to local authorities. Despite the powers confronting him he uses his wits and determination to defend his and his people's place in a presumably free American society.
By focusing on Hirabayashi's history, playwright Sakata's script is straightforward and simple story-telling. The structure of the dialogue is tight and crisp. There are no wasted words, no wasted images. . .everything spoken is important and direct. She tells a sometimes gruesome story in an engrossing manner. For instance, the description of the conditions in the internment camp is horrendous in its detail. Ironically, she notes that while American military and police forces are tearing Japanese-Americans from their homes and placing them in concentration camps, the United States is fighting the Germans who are doing the exact same thing to the Jews of Europe. It's difficult to accept that this is what our government foisted upon its citizens. Yet, throughout the script, though victimized by the system, she and Hirabayashi continue to defend the precepts of the Constitution.
Sakata is ably complemented by Fuente's dynamic yet controlled and insightful acting. His opening line "We hold these truths to be self-evident"a is delivered from the rear of the audience before the house lights go down. The strength of the delivery of this statement demands the audience’s attention. As he approaches the stage we immediately warm up to and respect him as he poses questions about the nature of truth.
Fuente portrays over twenty characters slipping in a moment from narrator Hirabayashi to his parents, college friends, military personnel, policemen, judges, lawyers and other assorted characters. Each has his or her own personality, physical bearing and individual speech intonations. Technically, every word he speaks is understood; every move and gesture important. It is an artistic and theatrical event to watch this man work.
Director Lisa Rothe moves the production with energy, even in the most somber scenes. Her staging is inventive within its simplicity. The spare set by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams consists of three wooden desk chairs, a window frame and a single lamp suspended from the ceiling. Rothe and Macadams use the chairs to represent different locations and props, the only actual ones being a suitcase filled with papers, books and some clothing, and a black stone. Lighting designer Cate Tate Starmer and sound designer Daniel Kluger support the tone of the play with sometimes subtle, sometimes pronounced changes and cues. The director and creative staff including costume designer Margaret A. Wheedon have created a physically exciting production with minimal distractions.
Sakata spent many hours interviewing Hirabayashi and his friends, reading letters he wrote during his imprisonment and articles written by and about him. The play is a combination of fact and fiction intended not as a diatribe against the country, but as an exploration of the Constitution and its role in American life. This search for the meaning and the truth of these tenets is relevant today as there are forces that are willingly undermining the principles of the most profound documents man has ever composed.
Even with this in mind, Hold These Truths is a play filled with faith and optimism.
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Hold These Truths by Jeanne Sakata
Directed by Lisa Rothe
Cast: Joel de la Fuente (Gordon Hirabayashi )
Scenic Design: Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams
Lighting Design: Cat Tate Starmer
Costume Design: Margaret E. Wheedon
Sound Design: Daniel Kluger
Stage Manager: Mary K. Botosan
Running Time: ninety minutes; no intermission
Barrington Stage Company, St. Germain Stage, Pittsfield, MA From 5/22/19; closing 6/8/19/18
Reviewed by Macey Levin May 25th performance
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