Hold These Truths in the Guthrie Theatre’s Dowling Studio

Joel de la Fuente in Hold These Truths. Photo by Laura Pates

Joel de la Fuente in Hold These Truths. Photo by Laura Pates.

In an at-war America wracked with paranoia and fear of a subversive threat following the attack on Pearl Harbor, a young, patriotic university student decided to stand up and be relentlessly principled. That student was Gordon Hirabayashi, and at a time in which his friends and family relented to government orders to intern all residents of Japanese descent, he refused to comply, objecting to the orders on constitutional grounds.

Jeanne Sakata’s play Hold These Truths (at the Guthrie Theatre, through October 23) earnestly tells this courageous man’s story. His story is for today; a story for all who reject swells of quite complacency in favor of reasoned discourse and compassion. It’s disheartening that over seven decades later, a story detailing one of our nation’s darkest chapters would feel so urgent. The play’s significance is girded by the fact that it’s a really good piece of theater, boasting excellent writing, a magnetic one-man performance, and compelling direction.

One major reason the play works is that Gordon’s development is relayed in organic fashion, from feeling like an outsider in his childhood as a first-generation Japanese-American, to the acceptance of a pacifistic Quaker worldview in college, to his eventual incarceration. There is a logical progression and rationale to his decisions and there is not a moment his actions feel anything but genuine. The writing is impressively reserved and finds a true, sincere voice in Joel de la Fuente’s tour-de-force performance.

Hirabayashi is not a stereotypically dramatic historical figure. He is no revolutionary and he does not see those he opposes as enemies to defeat. This is not the story of flashy revolt, but of optimism and the search for mutual understanding. Lisa Rothe aptly captures this spirit in her clean direction and guides de la Fuente’s performance as he injects humanity into each of the many personalities he portrays, from Gordon’s light-hearted kindness, to conflicted Supreme Court justices, to the military figures seeking Gordon’s obedience.

Hold These Truths utilizes a pointed lighting design (by Cat Tate Starmer) to highlight key moments with well-timed bursts of rich primary colors or isolating figures in stark spotlight. For a show that is relatively simple, such designs make for an impressively varied and interesting aesthetic. It is engrossing storytelling from beginning to end.

Gordon Hirabayashi was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, reminding this nation of his legacy. Hold These Truths continues that effort and captures this story’s vitality, as Gordon did not seek fame but calmly stood for his values in the face of insurmountable opposition. There is perhaps no better time we champion and revere a man who provided an unusual example of patient and gracious protest in an hour filled with vitriol and senseless noise. So pay $9 for a ticket, learn what it means to be American, and instruct others to do the same. But hurry, it only runs in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio through October 23.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies at their site Movie Matrimony.



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