‘Hold These Truths’ explores Japanese Internment in America

'Hold These Truths' performer Makoto Hirano. Photo by Daniel Kontz.

Plays & Players Theatre will stage the regional premiere of Hold These Truths, a one-man play by Los Angeles-based playwright and actor Jeanne Sakata. According to director Daniel Student, who is also the Plays & Players artistic director, it’s about one man’s journey to act, a statement that rings true in more ways than one.

Hold These Truths tells the true story of college student Gordon Hirabayashi, who resists Japanese Internment during World War II and gets his case to the Supreme Court. As a Japanese American, Gordon must learn to reconcile his affinity for his country with the knowledge that the government treats him like a second-class citizen. Along the way, Gordon “finds out what motivates somebody to go forward and take the biggest life risk you can take, to put your freedom aside, to go after your values,” Student said. “For any audience member, you see yourself in Gordon.” It’s a serious topic, but Gordon handles his circumstances with grace and humor.

What does activism look like?

Makoto Hirano plays Gordon, but speaks with the voices of more than 30 characters, from Gordon’s family and friends to authority figures. The role of Gordon has proven challenging for Hirano, and not only because he’s had to learn several different dialects. Hold These Truths is actually Hirano’s first play.

Hirano has more of a physical theater background and prefers to work on original performance pieces rather than act in plays. However, he found that he couldn’t say no to Student’s request to have him involved in Hold These Truths. Hirano said his involvement in the play is “part of the journey in deciding what my relationship to activism is,” which closely mirrors Gordon’s narrative. Both Gordon and Hirano practiced speaking out against injustice and taking action towards justice — for Hirano, this meant producing an alternative show to the Lantern’s controversial 2014 production of Julius Caesar, which riled many in the local community for its appropriation of Asian cultures.  

“It’s one thing to make a statement or write a letter,” Hirano said. “It’s another thing to stage an entire production that at its heart is about equality and having compassion for each other.”

Learning how to act

Years ago, Hirano made a series of shows about Japanese-American Internment, in which a central question was how to locate the Japanese in America, literally and figuratively. Hirano revisits that subject in Hold These Truths. Additionally, Student and Hirano have collaborated creatively to make sure the show is authentic, historically accurate, and can speak truth to power. They each read Gordon’s biography, A Principled Stand, corresponded with the playwright, and researched the period of Japanese Internment. Student also completed extensive research on Kabuki theater because Hold These Truths will be staged using the traditional Japanese scene changers called Kuroko.

The social message of the play couldn’t be more politically relevant. “In today’s world, we need to learn how to act, and we are starting to learn how to act. I think that this play is a lesson in that,” Student said. Instead of forgetting, “we need to remember that Japanese Internment happened…It’s an American story, a story about America.”

Hold These Truths is running from February 12 to March 1 in the third floor Skinner Studio at the Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. There is also a variety of special events related to the play and its themes. For tickets and more information, call 866-811-4111 or click here

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