By Patrick Hurley
Jeanne Sakata’s solo show Hold These Truths, playing now at the Pasadena Playhouse, recounts the remarkable journey of Gordon Hirabayashi (Ryun Yu) who was a young Japanese man at the start of World War II, and whose defiance and determination to oppose the United States Government’s orders to incarcerate Japanese-American citizens in internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor, leads him on a forty-year journey of self discovery, racial identity, and what it means to fight assimilation.
What’s particularly great about this piece is that at its heart it’s not an assimilation narrative, it never reduces itself to being didactic, nor is there any pedagogy disguised as a plot point, instead what Sakata does is allows the piece to be personal. She takes the given circumstances of what happened to so many Japanese-American’s during the years after Pearl Harbor, and she has unearthed the incredible story of just one man, rather than an entire group of people, which works as a catalyst or a bit of theatrical synecdoche, where a part is representing the whole. She also gives Gordon room to be utterly human, he’s not an emblem of a political cause, he’s just a man who stumbled into a constitutional battle, and who never idealizes, but actually quite pragmatically refuses to sit back and accept the limitations of the political leaders of his time. His fight is not one of anger and resentment, he merely continues, quite enviably, to strive towards justice.
First produced in 2007 by East West Players under the title Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi, the script has as much humor as it does heart, and is always engrossing. But perhaps, most impressively, it never solicits sentimentality, and it never goes for easy pathos. Jessica Kubzansky’s fluid direction keeps her actor seemingly always in motion. There is so much life coming off the stage, it seems crazy to think about this as a one-man show. This is also because of Ryun Yu’s incredible performance. He embodies over thirty characters, apart from creating a high-energy and utterly lovable Gordon. Yu is flawless, he never misses a beat, and everything he does seems to be handled with minimal effort, he’s so deft as a performer that his relaxed energy brings us in to his story quickly and he never relents. This is an astonishing feat for an actor to uphold for 90 minutes by himself.
The story is also aided by wonderful scenic and lighting design by Ben Zamora, and sound design by John Zalewski, both of whom keep things clean and simple. The beautiful simplicity of this production heightens the wonderful theatricality of the script, and it’s a great reminder that in theater sometimes less can be way more. This production is a wonderful feat, and tells an important story that shouldn’t be missed.
Hold These Truths
by Jeanne Sakata
Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Avenue in Pasadena from now through Sunday, June 25, 2017. Performance schedule is Tuesday – Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets range from $25 – $115 and are available online at PasadenaPlayhouse.org, by phone at 626-356-7529 or at the Pasadena Playhouse Box Office.
Running time for HOLD THESE TRUTHS is 90 minutes.