Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hold These Truths Holds Up

"I seek to live as though what ought to be, is."

Photo by Laura Pates.
Did you know that during World War II, anyone with more than 1/16 of Japanese descent was rounded up and thrown into an internment camp for the duration of the war?

If you did, gold star - you have paid attention and done some independent digging into American history. If not, you're not alone. The stories of places such as Manzanar tend to be swept under the rug. After all, history is a lot easier to tell when a) you're the winner (of the war, the narrative, or whatever the general conflict might be); and b) people tend to follow a government more willingly when they believe it's always the good guy.
Photo by Laura Pates.
That conflict between teaching what's easy and what's right is why shows like Hold These Truths, now showing at the Guthrie, are so important. Hold These Truths is a one man play which tells the story of the childhood, education, and subsequently disappointing growing up of Gordon Hirabayashi, an American Nisei* and one of few who fervently fought the internment of Japanese Americans throughout World War II. It's a thoroughly inspiring story, and is told excellently by Joel de la Fuente, who plays Gordon. One man shows are extraordinarily tough (when is the last time you memorized anything to recite, with verve, for 90+ minutes straight?   ...    I thought so), and Fuente keeps the audience engaged throughout.
Photo by Laura Pates.
In fact, Fuente's greatest talent is to make the audience feel like we are right there in the story. This narrative may not be a well-known one but it is over 70 years old at this point. The excellent narrative style of Hold These Truths prevents it from feeling like a dinosaur. In fact, it seems eerily prescient; haven't we heard a lot of talk lately of rounding up people of another race and sending them "back home where they belong"? Haven't many people of a certain religion lately been facing destruction of property and violent threats as they try to conduct their everyday business?

One of the most powerful moments of this show is the crescendo of Hirabayashi's trial as it reaches, and fails, the Supreme Court. The utter failure (unanimously!) of the highest court in the land to protect citizens' rights due to a nationalist disease is one of the blackest stains on American history within our borders (under only the massacre of Native Americans and slavery), and it deserves not only to be widely known but widely avoided in the future. Fuente beautifully portrays the thorough devastation of such a ruling, as well as the importance of overturning it later, even if it is technically "too little too late."
Photo by Laura Pates.
The set is highly minimalist, consisting of three chairs and an angled window. There are some opaque projections that provide a sort of fluid scrim throughout the show, as well as a few strategic and often used props. Fuente is so engaging that the spare set feels only appropriate; this way, we can focus on his narrative rather than a lavish frontispiece. I do want to give a special shoutout to the many ladies backstage for this production; although we only see one man on stage, there are seven other people behind the scenes helping with costuming/lighting design/sound/etc. who made this run smoothly, and it's exciting to see the majority of them be female. A final note (because I have to, you know I do): I will say that even though this is 90 minutes, it does feel a little long halfway through; but hold on, because the best part of the show is the latter third, and it has a lot to say.
Photo by Laura Pates.
Hold These Truths is an exceptional example of the importance of history. People say they want progress and forward motion - so, let's do it! Let's not repeat the mistakes of the past. Let's not excoriate groups by their races or religions. Let's not isolate communities and try to rid ourselves of them. Let's not let our tribal instincts overrule our commitment to a free, just, egalitarian, safe society. Instead, let's choose a better path. Let's choose a wiser path. Let's choose the constitution. Let's choose each other.

*A Nisei is a person of Japanese descent born in another country (in this case America); first generation immigrants are called Issei.