Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Hold These Truths
While this play is based upon an actual story, the author melds fiction with history and has adjusted time sequence to facilitate tense drama. Theatergoers may feel as if they are witnessing what literally did occur.
Hirabayashi was born in Seattle and raised in the Quaker tradition. As a college student, he discerned that Americans whose descendants were Japanese were treated unfairly to the point of incarceration. He became wary, since it was obvious that he was not welcome at all placesafter all, he was and looked Asian. During the second world war, Japanese Americans were ensnared in the name of national security. Gordon Hirabayashi became a person who would abide by his strong principles and moral beliefs. He was imprisoned but did not move away from his steadfast position.
Throughout, one feels that, within de la Fuente's grasp, Hirabayashi is an everyday individual, not a superstar. He believes in the Constitution. He grew up on his parents' farm, was eager for a college education, and did not mind taking on work to support himself. Yet, confronted with internment, he stands very tall with resistance. He is a conscientious objector with clear ideals, a man who lives honestly. A likable person, he cannot tolerate racism. Yet even the ACLU did not initially support him.
Hold These Truths is a bold, precise depiction of a shameful time in American history, yet one which is, for some, all the more relevant when certain current declarations about immigrants are added to the equation. After all, Hirabayashi did not receive full vindication for some 40 years.
Designer Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams provides a rear-hanging windowpane and a chair or two; otherwise, the stage is pretty much free of props. Daniel Kluger's sound design and Cat Tate Starmer's lighting provide atmosphere and help transport viewers.
This production, certainly heartfelt and resounding, soars through Joel de la Fuente's indelibly sustaining performance. His demeanor is instantly one of warmth. He smiles easily and deeply. As Sakata's scripting, through 90 minutes, unfolds, the actor is increasingly powerful, resolute, and charismatic. His confidence is easy: de la Fuente has successfully embodied Hirabayashi in prior productions, too. He makes eye contact with his audience immediately and holds attention throughout. His versatility is an asset as he needs, at times, to agefrom a college student to a man in his mid-sixties. The performer holds a connection with those watching. The onstage silences are resonant ones. It would be difficult to tune out the character, to disregard Sakata's dialogue. It is not a show in which a specified moment enthralls: the build up is gradual and de la Fuente's performance grows by increments.
As one departs, this remains: Gordon Hirabayashi was sent to a camp because he was of Japanese ancestry. Something to think about for a while.
Hold These Truths, through June 8, 2019, at Barrington Stage Company, St. Germain Stage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield MA. For tickets, call 413-236-8888 or visit BarringtonStageCo.org.