Stage / When was the last time you stopped to ask yourself what it means to be American? This morning, stuck in the Middle Street merge? In the pharmacist’s line at Longs? Watching Ice Road Truckers? It probably wasn’t in the same context, the same pressure, as when Gordon Hirabayashi asked himself the question.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Hirabayashi refused to comply with the resulting internment of Japanese-Americans and fought to hold the Constitution to its words. Hold These Truths, a one-man play starring Joel de la Fuente as Hirabayashi and more than 30 other characters, tells Hirabayashi’s story so impressively that most actors would keel over from exhaustion. “It’s the kind of thing where it does require a certain level of energy and commitment,” de la Fuente admits.
The structure emulates the play’s message. The fact that de la Fuente (an Asian-American) portrays each American character so convincingly (from an Arizona sheriff to a college jock to a Supreme Court judge to a naïve and then fired-up Hirabayashi) illustrates that “American” isn’t any one of those, but the whole of them.
When Daniel Dae Kim, yes, that DDK, went to New York to see de la Fuente in the play, Kim says he knew it belonged here. “Not only is Joel fantastic in it, but the themes are ones that resonate with me, and I felt like especially because of Hawaii’s place in America’s history, this would be a story that people here would really appreciate,” says Kim, who is also the show’s producer.
Playwright Jeanne Sakata fuses fiction with research and interviews she conducted with Hirabayashi and his friends, letters he wrote and articles on the case. See it and ask yourself: How far have we evolved as a society from this flawed history, or are we doomed to repeat it?