Lyric's "Hold These Truths": It Can't Happen Here

Michael Hisamoto with Gary Thomas Ng & Samantha Richert
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

Hold These Truths by Jeanne Sekata is a historical play about the internment of U.S. Citizens of Japanese descent in their own country during World War II; obviously, this was a national disgrace which could never again happen here.

As the current production by Lyric Stage Company, this work stars Michael Hisamoto (a Japanese-born and Singapore-raised actor) as Gordon Hirabayashi (of Japanese ancestry and Quaker upbringing). It's the story of his defiance and patriotism in resisting internment in camps. It also features three kurogos (essentiallty stage hands, sometimes “invisible” manipulators and dancers) in the kabuki and noh theatrical traditions, played by Khloe Alice lin, Gary Thomas Ng and Samantha Richert. Told by means of flashbacks, the story utilizes Hisamoto in numerous roles, from his parents and college friends to military leaders, Supreme Court justices, lawyers, prison bosses, and even Hopi native Americans. As a Quaker, he believed that “God is in each heart, not in a church”. His fifty years of effort resulted in the exposure of the supposed need to detain “non-alien U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry” for reasons of “national security”, to be ultimately the aftermath of hysteria and racism. This was in part due to the unearthing of letters, memos and military documents by legal historian Peter Irons. In this spare and stark one-hundred-minute intermissionless work, a powerful lesson ought to be apparent. Director Benny Sato Ambush likens this work to a one-person show “with a cast of thousands”, since the character of Hirabayashi is clearly representative of the huge number of people affected by their unconscionable mistreatment. He further notes that nativism and xenophobia (and consequent immigration laws) rear their ugly heads cyclically. And as the playwright herself puts it, “rather than be defeated by the America that was, (Hirabayashi) felt that he had to say a passionate “yes” to the America that was still to come”. As the powers that be finally had to admit, “ancestry is not a crime”.

Michael Hisamoto with Samantha Richert, Khloe Alice Lin & Gary Thomas Ng
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

As Hirabayashi quotes his father: “the nail that's sticking out is the one that gets hit”. Toward the end of the play, Hirabayashi's earlier quote is expanded upon: “the nail that's sticking out is the one that gets hit.....unless the hammer is smaller than the nail”. Surprisingly funny at times, nearly always profound and of course resonant, the play has great power. Its force is dependent on the skill of Hisamoto, and he commands the stage, first with his wide-eyed innocence, then with growing disenchantment, finally with righteous anger. The production is choreographed by Jubilith Moore, with Scenic Design (effectively using typical Japanese screens) by Shelley Barish, simple Costume Design by Tobi Renaldi, critical Lighting Design by Karen Perlow, and fine Sound Design and Music Composition by Arshan Gailus and Projection Design by Johnathan Carr.

As Hirabayashi noted, “we are here farther still from where we ought to be”. Appropriately, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, unfortunately, a posthumous recognition, given as it was just months after his death. And, of course, as noted above, in our more enlightened times, it can't happen again here. Oh, wait.....

You would do well to revisit this ever more timely era, to be presented through December 31st.

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