Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Hold These Truths, Jeanne Sakata's one-actor play now in the Kogod Cradle at Washington's Arena Stage, recounts the true story of Hirabayashi (Ryun Yu), a Nisei (U.S.-born child of Issei, Japanese immigrants), who fought the federal government over the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. In a diverse performance that traces Hirabayashi's life from childhood to his 70s, Yu recounts the man's experiences through the lens of his Quaker faith and his determination that darkness can overcome light in the world.
Yu is spellbinding throughout the 100-minute performance, recounting the underlying anti-Asian bias in Washington State, where he grew up; a visit to New York City, where Hirabayashi marveled at the lack of prejudice he faced; his experiences at the University of Washington, interrupted by the federal order that Japanese Americans on the West Coast sell their property and report to internment camps; and his decision to stand up against the requirement that Japanese Americans were forced to prove their loyalty to the U.S. in wartime, unlike German and Italian Americans.
Some of the details seem unbelievable but are true, such as the fact that Hirabayashi hitchhiked alone from Seattle to Arizona to serve his sentence at a work camp because he was not given any money for transportation. After the war, he earned degrees in sociology and spent his life in academia; his convictions were overturned in 1987 and he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama posthumously in 2012.
Director Jessica Kubzansky maintains a brisk pace as Yu paces, declaims, and at times lectures the audience from Ben Zamora's stark set, a raised platform with three chairs and a screen that shifts color along with the mood (Zamora also designed the lighting). The message that constitutional rights are only as strong as the support they receive from the government, and that "ancestry is not a crime," may seem overly obvious, but it should be repeated.