Hold These Truths: An ACT Seattle Play
I got the chance to see a preview of the latest play at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle: Hold These Truths, by Jeanne Sakata. It is a one man play, with an amazing story and an even better performance. Hold These Truths is the story of Gordon Hirabayashi, a student at the University of Washington during WWII. As a Japanese-American, he fought the curfew and mass incarnation order by the U.S. government. He believed in the Constitution, and that as an American, he was being betrayed by Order 9066; the U.S. Government order to forcibly remove and mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast during WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Since it was a preview, we were given the disclaimer that the actor may call for a line, pause to collect himself or even ask for a reminder on the staging of the set. This was only the second night of previews, and they were still working on finessing the final details.
The play was amazing. As a one man play, there aren't any other actors to play off of, or to engage with. The entire story is coming from one man, recounting his past and conversations with others. Ryun Yu, playing Gordon Hirabayashi, did not disappoint! While he may have stumbled over his words a few times, he recovered immediately and it felt natural, like someone trying to remember his own story, not just lines on paper.
Ryun's delivery and presence on stage was less like a performance, and more like a conversation with a very animated friend. His comedic timing was spot on, and there were plenty of funny parts. Partially I think because Gordon was in such disbelief that the U.S. government would do such a thing to it's own people, it had to be a joke. But it was no joke, it was real, and you see him come to that realization and struggle with it. You watch this highly principled and intelligent man fight a good fight against a country he loved and called his own, but didn't support or protect him like it had promised in the Constitution. It was gut wrenching and comical all at the same time.
Using only 3 chairs, his wardrobe, and his fantastic ability to use accents, Ryun Yu created a world of cities, characters and history on the stage. He came into the audience a few times and seemed to enjoy getting us to laugh at the sometimes ridiculous things the people of his past said and did in the name of patriotism. The lighting on stage and the sound effects helped set the scenes and differentiate between the characters that Ryun was portraying. You were never lost or confused by what was happening on stage. It was easy to follow what was going on and who Ryun was speaking as.
This story had a happy-ish ending, but not all who were subjugated to Order 9066 did. It was a horrible thing that happened in our own country, to our own people. Gordon was one of the few brave Japanese-Americans to stand up and defy the government, and he truly did make a difference.
I highly recommend this play! I may even go see it after it's official premier to see if they d0 make any changes. If you never studied this part of U.S. history during WWII in school, you will learn a lot. From the social, political and military aspects of what war and fear can do to a country. This country is not perfect, but we have the ability to learn from our mistakes and allow the amazing people who call it home to thrive and help make it better.