With expressive and limber physicality, animated facial features, piercing eyes, and a smoothly resonant voice, Mr. de la Fuente vividly depicts Mr. Hirabayashi from youth to old age. Magnifying his towering performance, de la Fuente also plays a gallery of characters that include Hirabayashi’s parents, his friends, and American military personal as well as other incidental characters. His uniformly sharp characterizations are accomplished with ease, precision and depth. He is totally commanding during the play’s 90 minutes.
Poetic flourishes are combined with factual details in Ms. Sakata’s finely written script that dramatizes this controversial chapter in American history. Sakata has woven her personally conducted interviews with Hirabayashi and other participants with letters, research and her imagination, all into a dramatic narrative.
Gordon Hirabayashi (1918-2012) was born in Seattle, Washington to immigrant Japanese parents. He graduated from the University of Washington, became a Quaker and a religious pacifist. Outraged at the racist, forced relocation of Japanese-Americans into rural camps, he refused to register for internment and was jailed for violating a curfew. He also spent a year in prison for refusing induction into the armed forces. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him. After the war, he married, become a noted sociologist and moved to Canada. In 2012, President Obama posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Sakata skillfully imparts all of this information and more with dramatic force and occasional humor. A highlight of the play is Hirabayashi’s visit to New York City as a college student where he joyously experiences the lack of racism to which he had grown accustomed.
Director Lisa Rothe’s dynamic staging has de la Fuente kinetically postioned on stage throughout. Ms. Rothe’s grasp of stagecraft extends to the high caliber technical elements that in unison with the performance results in a compelling and theatrical presentation.
The airy stage is set with three chairs, a suitcase, a slanted hanging window, and a hanging lantern. In addition to these basic components, scenic designer Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams has the floor red and a white back wall. Out of this minimalism Ms. MacAdams creates a striking landscape that perfectly suits the production.
Hues of red, gold, and blue strategically permeate lighting designer Cat Tate Starmer’s striking work. The moods, tones and time periods of the piece are all crisply rendered.
Daniel Kluger’s swirling, electronic score is realized by his intense sound design that energizes the production further. Clips of songs and recreations of radio broadcasts of the era add to the atmosphere. Particularly of note is a portion that has Edward R. Murrow harshly supporting the treatment of Japanese-Americans.
Vintage clothing that instantly conveys the sense of the late 1930’s and 1940’s has been artfully crafted by costume designer Margaret E. Weedon.
Due to its superior writing, arresting visual qualities and Joel de la Fuente’s enthralling presence, Hold These Truths is a searing and highly informative take on its subject. Arguably this return engagement is even more resonant because of the current U.S. government’s anti-immigration policies.
The play was first performed in Los Angeles in 2007, and went through several incarnations at regional theaters. This version, also directed by Lisa Rothe premiered in 2012, and was produced by the Epic Theatre Ensemble of New York City. Its run was interrupted by Hurricane Sandy and de la Fuente was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance.
Hold These Truths (through December 20, 2017)
Hang A Tale Theater Company
The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture
The Black Box Theatre, 18 Bleecker Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.hangatale.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission