by Roseann Cane
History and artistry have merged on the St. Germain Stage of the Barrington Stage Company in a rare and wonderful way to bring us a one-man play that couldn’t be more timely. Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths, starring Joel de la Fuente as scholar and civil rights champion Gordon Hirabayashi (1918-2012), is a galvanizing portrayal of a courageous patriot, a man I never learned about in school, and I suspect you never did either.
Hirabayashi, who was to become a Quaker, was born in Washington state to Japanese immigrant parents. After finishing high school, Hirabayashi attended the University of Washington. In 1940, he won a fellowship to attend a summer leadership conference at Columbia University, where his awareness of the conflicts in Europe and the Pacific grew. When he returned to Seattle, he registered with the Selective Service as a conscientious objector.
The principled and idealistic Hirabayashi fervently believed in the U.S. Constitution, and was shocked to find that, as a U.S. citizen, his rights were not protected. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, an executive order called for all people of Japanese history to be excluded from the West Coast. Hirabayashi, who saw that the imposed curfews and evacuations conflicted with the Constitution, felt he had no choice but to resist. Instead of submitting to the relocation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps, he turned himself in to the F.B.I., believing that he would create a test case that would ultimately prove the government’s treatment of Japanese-Americans was unconstitutional. While his plan didn’t work out as he’d imagined, he bore years of imprisonment not only with remarkable grace and courage, but with his core beliefs fully intact.
On Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams’s elegantly designed minimalist set, beautifully supported by Cat Tate Starmer’s lighting design and Daniel Kluger’s sound design, Joel de la Fuente honors Hirabayashi’s life and Jeanne Sakata’s exquisitely rendered script with an unforgettably dynamic performance. The actor embodies Hirabayashi through 50 years, and plays a variety of characters with equal skill and gusto. De la Fuente is riveting, seamlessly moving through the events and people in Hirabayashi’s life in portrayals that are nothing short of luminous. The 90-odd minutes fly by, yet deliver a gratifyingly full portrait of an American hero. I hope this fine play brings Hirabayashi the wider recognition he has certainly earned.
Hold These Truths runs through June 8, 2019. I hope you are able to get a ticket. I think we can all use a reminder of what a real patriot looks like.
Barrington Stage Company presents Hold These Truths by Jeanne Sakata, directed by Lisa Rothe, from May 22-June 8, 2019, on the St. Germain Stage at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden Street in Pittsfield, MA. Scenic design by Mikiko Suzuki McAdams, costume design by Margaret E. Weedon, lighting design by Cat Tate Starmer, sound design by Daniel Kluger. Production Stage Manager: Mary K. Botosan. Starring Joel de la Fuente.
Performances: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets: $15-$50. Barrington Stage Box Office: 413-236-8888 or online at www.barringtonstageco.org.