JEANNE SAKATA’S ‘HOLD THESE TRUTHS’ OPENS SF PLAYHOUSE RETURN TO LIVE PERFORMANCES.
The magic is back. I attended my first live in-person play in over a year at the San Francisco Playhouse to see a smart production of HOLD THESE TRUTHS. The Bay Area production is now live on stage and streamed through July 3rd at the SF Playhouse. Written by Jenne Sakata she opens the play with the banner line “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” and sets up the American dream in Sakata’s powerful one act, solo-performance. The life of Gordon Hirabayashi, of Japanese ancestry, challenged incarceration by his own government during World War II, as he narrates his own dramatic story.
JOMAR TAGATAC TOUR DE FORCE PERFORMANCE AS GORDON HIRYABASHI
IS A MUST SEE
Hirabayashi’s saga is performed by Bay Area favorite Jomar Tagatac who brings Gordons life path alive in a tour de force performance. The story begins as he grows up on a family farm in Washington state as a nisei, a second-generation Japanese with his parents who are issei first generation immigrants. While in high school, he joined the Quakers. White attending Seattle University discrimination isn’t as explicit as it was in his hometown were he was bullied. During a college visit to Manhattan in 1939, he was amazed at the freedom to finally not be denied his rights due to his Japanese culture. New York showed him a colorblind freedom he had never experienced.
When Hirabayashi returns to Washington state, he is rejected from many jobs because he is Japanese. With the threat of War in Europe. Being a Quaker he becomes a conscientious objector. When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt orders all residents with as little as 1/16th Japanese ancestry to the internment camps.
Writer Jeanne Sakata, who is also an actor and playwright, introduced the audience to this unknown hero. Sakata is deeply interested in the facts, it is a powerful and very moving work. Director Jeffery Lo artfully introduces Hirabayashi as our everyman. Hirabayashi resists his incarceration and is one of the first to challenge the US Government imprisonment. After a decade of lawsuits, Hirabayashi attempt's to assert his rights as an American citizen. In the 1940's he lost two separate Supreme Court decisions.
Sakata infuses Hirabayashi’s tale with narrative momentum but also analyzes the legal twists and turns in Hirabayashi’s 50 year old case. The compelling Tagatac humanizes Hirabayashi completely, from the pain of being told “you’re no more than a Jap” to the guilt of subjecting his parents to extra scrutiny. He does fall in love with his college sweetheart and later they become a family. Jomar takes us on Hirabayashi’s path through his college years and the drama of his first arrest.
Jomar plays a dozen characters from his parents speaking Japanese to lawyers, prison guards, ACLU supporters and his college roommate each with perfect dialect. The power of Jomar’s impeccable performance makes this 90 min plus journey a must see. Lo directs quietly and sensitively, on a set designed and costumed by Christopher Fitzer. Jomars only uses two vintage style wooden chairs and an old battered suitcase as props to relate his life’s journey. The lighting by Heather Kenyon sets the mood to feel the rich video projection design by award winning Teddy Hulsker, and edited by Wolfgang Lancelot Wachalovsky.
Gordon Hirabayashi passed away at 94 in 2012 as a retired professor of sociology. He spent his final years living a quiet life as his case was finally resolved after 50 years. Gordon held no malice to his country who denied him his rights. Gordon said his struggle was to live by his principles. Hirabayashi accepts that America’s search for self evident truths is imperfect. ”If I believe in the constitution and the Bill of Rights during peace, it ought to be worthwhile during war too” which are wise words for those who dealt with appalling times. In 1985 a documentary UNFINISHED BUSINESS based on his life was released and directed by the award winning Steven Okazaki.
The play was first produced in 2007, and “Hold These Truths” still remains timely, as we recover from the Trump years and the ban on refugees from Syria and immigrants from Muslim countries is lifted. The drama is particularly powerful as it shows Gordon from the time he was a boy memorizing the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to the time he is an old man refusing to give up "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." and the American Dream.
“Hold These Truths” runs through July 3, 2021, at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., with matinees Saturday at 3:00 p.m. The show is also available to be streamed.
Tickets are $15-$100, available at www.sfplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 415-677-9596.
San Francisco Playhouse
presents in-person performances
HOLD THESE TRUTHS
By Jeanne Sakata
Directed by Jeffrey Lo
June 8 – July 3, 2021
On-demand video production
Available to view throughout the run