Photo credit Laura Pates for PlayMakers Repertory Company
In a time when community conversation is one of the strongest ways to deal with the social issues of today, the Guthrie opens discussion on one of the more harrowing and disturbing times in recent American history. It was only 74 years ago, in 1942, that President Roosevelt signed an executive order forcing all Japanese-Americans to pack up everything that they could carry and move to one of ten concentration camps, mostly situated in the Western part of the country. With no evidence that this would protect the country at a time of war, everyone who had 1/16 Japanese ancestry had to effectively end the lives they had known (which were already wrought with racism and discrimination), and live in these isolated communities.
In the midst of all of this was a hero, Gordon Hirabayashi, whose steadfast principles (and respect for America and the constitution that it was founded on) brought him to defy the order and risk his life for what he knew to be true. With this decision came prison, many long trials, and a principled period of isolation and struggle. And Joel de la Fuente’s portrayal of the American hero gave the well-deserved honor and admiration to Hirabayashi’s story.
The show featured one man, three chairs, a suitcase, and not much else. The minimal set gave de la Fuente the space to give exactly what he needed to, though. He was able to create each secondary character that he portrayed in a recognizable and understood way, using his voice and body language to give them their own distinct personalities, without ever distracting from their role in Hirabayashi’s life. He never faltered in the hour and a half that he had to hold captivation, instead offering a mix of lighthearted optimism and grave concern in the most authentic way.
Perhaps the most enthralling part, however, was the discussion that took place after the show. While most of the audience left before the conversation began, those who remained had questions and insights that brought the impact of the show even further than imagined. The show took an even more incredible turn when one woman, who spent a big part of her childhood in a camp, was able to provide very detailed and disturbing facts that Hold These Truths wasn’t able to cover, and the more recent attempts by the government to rectify the horrifying history.
This story is one that needs to be told, especially when we’re in an age, which de la Fuente succinctly noted, where the exact same rhetoric of hate and fear is being presented on a daily basis. This conversation needs to be had and the facts need to be acknowledged.
Hold These Truths runs October 13-October 23 at the Guthrie Theater.