Regional Reviews: San Diego
Told in flashback when Gordon (Ryun Yu) is a sociologist, he reflects on his past as he faced constant prejudice and intolerance. Despite various hardships, as a young adult, Gordon was able to be a successful college student at the University of Washington. His existence became more difficult when World War II began following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942, many Japanese immigrants and people of Japanese ancestry in the United Sates were forced to move to internment camps. Instead of joining his family to live in a camp, Gordon refused to go, since he felt being in one went against his Quaker religious beliefs and the United States Constitution. The rest of the narrative follows what happens after he made this choice.
Playwright Jeanne Sakata presents Gordon as a likable and charismatic individual who loves his country and is not afraid to stick to his convictions. There is plenty of humor throughout the entire script as Gordon directly speaks to theatregoers. Because of the frequent comedic moments, the show verges on being a dramedy, even when Gordon faces problems with the law. One issue with Sakata's writing is that Gordon is often so amusing that the script does not go as much into depth to portray the darkness of war, problems with the criminal justice system, and life in internment camps. Each of the topics are acknowledged, but are generally skimmed through by Sakata. Perhaps Sakata is being respectful to Gordon and his optimistic outlook, since the work is inspired by interviews she conducted with him. Though the material is not very intense, the narrative is still a touching one. Gordon is consistently empathetic thanks to Yu.
Yu plays Gordon with an upbeat personality, and is very funny depicting the hero's deep intelligence. While he seemed to be fighting a cold on opening night, Yu performed with high energy, which was infectious. He also portrays a variety of other characters, including friends, family members, and people who pose a threat to Gordon. The actor inhabits each role with care and witty timing. He is effective in showing how Gordon's spirit was never broken, and how he never lost track of his core values.
Several of the people working on this interpretation, including Yu and director Jessica Kubzansky, have been involved with the play since the world premiere at East West Players in 2007 (the title was first called Dawn's Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi). Kubzansky puts a lot of trust in Yu to carry the drama. Her direction works by capitalizing on Yu's strong acting throughout the 90-minute runtime. She uses Ben Zamora's (he is the set designer as well) lighting and music incorporated by sound designer John Zalewski to depict various tones from lightheartedness to sorrow. Zamora and Zalewski's contributions enhance the plotline without drawing attention away from the events shown in the Lyceum Space.
Genuinely inspiring, Kubzansky's production is worth recommending, even for those who generally find war tales too heavy to watch. Due to her humane and humorous approach to the subject matter, you'll leave moved and surprisingly uplifted by the powerful story based on true events.
Hold These Truths runs through December 8, 2019, at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego CA. Tickets start at $25.00. For tickets and information, visit www.sdrep.org or call 619-544-1000.