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A CurtainUp DC Review
Hold These Truths

"The nail that sticks out always gets hit." — Old Japanese proverb quoted by Gordon's father to his son.
Hold These Truths
Japanese-Americans known as Nisei, living on the West coast of the United States in the 1930's experienced enormous prejudice. There were signs reading No Japs Allowed. And that was before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. What followed that day of infamy was one of the most unconscionable events in American history. Japanese Americans and their progeny, even those who were born in the United States and were therefore US citizens, were incarcerated in camps during WWII.

The extraordinary life of one Japanese-American, Gordon Hirabayashi, is told in Jeanne Sakata's moving one-man show, Hold These Truths, now at Arena. He was a farmer's son, born in 1918, in the United States. Educated at the University of Washington, he was a Quaker, an activist, conscientious objector and prisoner.

An almost bare stage with three chairs and a large rear screen that changes colors provides the background to Hirabayashi's story. To convince its audience and achieve artistic success the onus is on one actor, in this case Ryun Yu.

What an actor! His performance, includes taking on the roles of his traditional Japanese-born parents and fellow students. He also portrays the low-level judicial types he ran up against when convicted of breaking curfew and refusing to be incarcerated in camps that held Japanese-Americans. As a conscientious objector and the ACLU leaders who let him down until his legal case got to the Supreme Court, he is a tour de force. Not only did he originate the role he owns it. This is one of those rare instances when a standing ovation is deserved.

The legal issues Hold These Truths raises are timely as are the moral ones. The Constitution, Hirabayashi says, is just a piece of paper unless we, as American citizens, take it to heart and fight for its promises and principles.

Jeanne Sakata, herself a Nisei, based her play on interviews with Gordon Hirabayashi, who, after a long career as a Professor of Sociology, died in 2012, a few months before being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

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Hold These Truths by Jeanne Sakata
Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
Cast: Ryun Yu
Set and Lighting Design by Ben Zamora
Costume Design by Cierra Coan
Sound Design by John Zalewski
Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission.

Arena Stage;
February 23 to April 8, 2018.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson at March 1, 2018 performance.

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