Gordon Hirabayashi was an American patriot. Raised by parents who immigrated from Japan, he believed in the rights and freedoms envisioned in the Declaration of Independence, and he took seriously his responsibility as a citizen. So, when the Japanese attack on US forces stationed at Pearl Harbor took the nation by surprise, Mr. Hirabayashi knew that his mission had to be resistance to the panic that overtook the country and led to what became a shameful forced detainment of people of Japanese ancestry living in the US.
Along the way, Mr. Hirabayashi met a number of sympathetic characters, sheriffs who made life easier, judges who pronounced light sentences, lawyers who came to the rescue by challenging the Executive Order that created the detainment, and members of his religious community, the Religious Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers. He also ran into his share of virulent racists who threatened him – and not-so-virulent citizens who kept him off their property and out of their lives.
Through it all, Mr. Hirabayashi remained remarkably optimistic, ever adhering to his beliefs in the tenets and values of the American dream. And, in the end, the system he believed in acknowledged the error of its ways, though undoubtedly not to the satisfaction of all.
Jeanne Sakata’s play, Hold These Truths, documents Gordon Hirabayashi’s civil disobedience and the principles that informed it. She conducted interviews with Mr. Hirabayashi, his family and associates. Her 90-minute, no intermission, account is compact and almost matter-of-fact, perhaps due in some measure to multiple productions featuring the same performer (Ryun Yu), the same director (Jessica Kubzansky), and a good number of the creative team since its world premiere in 2007 at Los Angeles’ East-West Players. Occasional stirring words are uttered, but mostly the story reflects persistence and a faith that right will prevail.
Mr. Yu’s performance reflects the text. His character is unfailingly polite and modest, and Mr. Yu does not allow enthusiasm to overshoot those bounds. (Mr. Yu’s performance may have been tempered by a persistent runny nose, to which he attended frequently.)
At the end of a week where the US public was reminded of the quiet dignity of government civil servants, Mr. Hirabayashi’s heroism, as echoed by Mr. Yu’s performance provided an appropriate coda to reminders of what our country does – and sometimes does not – stand for.