Friday, October 9, 2020

TheatreWorks streams timely 'Hold These Truths'

Joel de la Fuente plays Gordon Hirabayashi in "Hold These Truths." (Photo by Kevin Berne)

 One man’s unshakeable belief in the Constitution underpins the timely “Hold These Truths,” being streamed by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley as part of its online initiative, “Voices of Democracy,” an effort to encourage voting and racial justice.

Jeanne Sakata based her play on the true story of Gordon Hirabayashi (Joel de la Fuente), a second-generation Japanese American who defied the curfew and subsequent internment of Japanese people during World War II. They were called security threats.

Because of his defiance, he was imprisoned. Even the Supreme Court upheld his internment conviction, but it was ultimately invalidated by a federal district court judge in Seattle in 1986.

The judge held that the U.S. government had withheld crucial information that a widespread roundup of Japanese people – both aliens and citizens – wasn’t a military necessity.

In May 2012, President Obama awarded Gordon the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously.

Besides believing in the freedoms outlined in the Constitution, Gordon also believed these words in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

His immigrant parents owned a farm in Washington, so Gordon worked there before going to the University of Washington in Seattle in 1937. While there he became a Quaker, or Friend. Thus he was a pacifist, too. 

Although he liked college and made friends, including his future wife, he was limited in where he could go because so many places had signs stating, “No Japs.”

This anti-Japanese racism intensified after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. As far as many Americans were concerned, “Our faces are the faces of the enemy,” Gordon says. Japanese people had to adhere to an 8 p.m. curfew, which he defied.

In May 1942, he also defied the internment over his parents’ strenuous objections. He was arrested for both violations and ultimately spent 90 days in jail.

Playing Gordon, de la Fuente voices other characters in a tour de force using only three chairs and some minimal props.

Directed by Lisa Rothe, this streamed version was filmed during an actual performance in 2018. Hence it feels more authentic than Zoom shows. The only drawback is that its occasional background radio broadcasts don’t carry over on film.

As Gordon says late in the play, the district court in Seattle found that “ancestry is not a crime.”

These words strike a chord today as the nation grapples with racism along with some leaders’ seeming defiance of the Constitution among other crises of 2020.

In addition to this play, “Voices of Democracy" offers digital theatrical experiences leading up to the election. They include poems read by local actors and other features.

In another highlight, TheatreWorks is teaming with Berkeley Repertory Theatre and other companies across the Bay Area and nation for a four-part  radio adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here” starting at 5 p.m. Oct. 13 on YouTube.

This 1935 satire follows the ascent of a demagogue who becomes president by promising to return the country to greatness.

For information about all events, call (650) 463-1960 or visit

“Hold These Truths” continues on-demand streaming through Nov. 3. Access is available on a sliding scale ($10-$100). Closed captions are available in English and Japanese.