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PRC’s Regional Premiere of “Hold These Truths” on April 23-27 Chronicles a 44-Year Struggle for Justice

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For the final presentation of its 2013-14 PRC2 second-stage series, PlayMakers Repertory Company will stage the regional premiere of Hold These Truths, a one-man show written by Jeanne Sakata and performed by Joel de la Fuente, under the direction of Lisa Rothe, on April 23-27 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art. Beginning in Seattle in early 1942, immediately after Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, this timely topical drama — which preshow publicity describes as “a journey of belief, betrayal, and reconciliation” — is inspired by the true story of the heroic fight of Quaker University of Washington sociology student Gordon Hirabayashi (1918-2012) — a Nisei (i.e., an American born of Issei immigrant parents who were born in Japan).

Hirabayashi questioned the legality of Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and actively opposed the U.S. government’s subsequent roundup people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast and forcible relocation of them to internment camps farther inland. (Freewheeling post-show discussions with the artists and subject-matter experts will allow PRC2 patrons to explore the issues that the play raises.)

In an April 10th press release, UNC News Services notes, “Hirabayashi … was an American sociologist best known for his resistance to Japanese-American internment during World War II, one of only three persons to openly defy it. After being convicted for curfew violation, he was sentenced to 90 days in prison. The verdict was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in Hirabayashi v. United States (1943). In 1987, the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit overturned his conviction. In 2012, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Hirabayashi for his principled stand.”

“From the very beginning,” actress-turned-dramatist Jeanne Sakata told Ann Chow of JQ Magazine in an October 2012 interview, “I saw Gordon Hirabayashi’s story as a unique and quintessentially American story, and although he was Japanese American himself, I hoped that the play would have a broad appeal, not just for that community, or just the Asian American community, but for people of all ages, ethnicities, and walks of life…. Many of our East Coast audience members … did not know that anyone in Seattle who was one-sixteenth Japanese, or babies from orphanages who had any Japanese blood, were ordered to be penned up behind barbed wire. They don’t know that so many children and young American citizens were torn out of their schools and imprisoned, and for so many years. But I also hope the reaction to Gordon’s story we’ve had here so far will continue — that people will be delighted, as well as profoundly moved and inspired, to learn about him….”

Originally entitled Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi, Hold These Truths is Jeanne Sakata’s first play. It had its world premiere in Los Angeles in 2007, and made its New York City debut Off Broadway in October 2012 in critically acclaimed production, directed by Lisa Rothe, which earned a nomination for the 2013 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance for Joel de la Fuente, who will reprise his role at PlayMakers Rep, again under the direction by Lisa Rothe.

In reviewing the show’s Off-Broadway production for the New York Theatre Review, Julia Hochner raved, “… The play is a master class in the personal as political — a play where one man’s singular story, so full of heart and heartbreak, can speak to the struggles of an entire nation. Joel de la Fuente is absolutely riveting from start to finish as Mr. Hirabayashi and a host of other characters that make up this history. [He] is wonderfully open, engaging and so full of life…. He is an actor of tremendous craft and empathy, and it is a gift to witness him in this role as he embodies an entire lifetime of human experience in roughly ninety minutes. The flawless direction by Lisa Rothe creates a unity of action despite the frequent changes in time and perspective…. Most importantly, a lovely balance is struck between the facts of the story and its emotional core….”

Hochner added, “As devastating as this play often is, as hard as it is to face the demons of our past, it also gives us the strength and hope we need to write the next chapter.”

 

Joel de la Fuente stars as Gordon Hirabayashi in "Hold These Truths" (photo by Lia Chang)

Joel de la Fuente stars as Gordon Hirabayashi in “Hold These Truths” (photo by Lia Chang)

PlayMakers Rep guest director Lisa Rothe recalls, “About five years ago, Zak Berkman from Epic Theatre Ensemble [of New York, NY] asked me if I might be interested in looking at this play and directing a reading of it at the Lark Play Development Center [in New York City]. A terrific Japanese-American actor, Thom Sesma, was cast in the role of Gordon Hirabayashi; and we spent a wonderful six hours together, working on the play to get it on its feet for a public reading.

“After that,” Rothe says, “Jeanne Sakata asked me if I would like to work on it at Dartmouth [College in Hanover, NH], as part of a new-play-development program with New York Theatre Workshop. This time, we would have five days to work on the play. Unfortunately, Thom was not available for this workshop, so I suggested that actor Joel de la Fuente might be a good fit. We had gone to the New York University Graduate Acting program together (he was a year ahead of me), and I had always wanted to work with him.

“Joel, Jeanne, and I had an amazing time working on the play together in the wilds of New Hampshire; and we all hoped for the opportunity for a production,” Rothe says. “Finally, Epic Theatre Ensemble decided to produce the play Off Broadway in the fall of 2012.”

Rothe, who also directed the April 25-29, 2012 production of Penelope — a one-woman show written and performed by Ellen McLaughlin — for the UNC’s professional-theater-in-residence, admits, “I have never been a fan of one-person plays. However, when I read this script, I was quite moved by the story. Although I knew of the internment camps during World War II, I had never heard of Gordon Hirabayashi, and was humbled by his journey. The story resonated on a universal level as well, and I thought it was important to share the singular and brave story of this one man while speaking universally about civil liberties. Also, Joel de la Fuente is a remarkable actor; and by the end of the play, it feels as if more than one person has been on stage[, because] Joel de la Fuente plays 36 different characters, [but] principally Gordon Hirabayashi.”

In addition to director Lisa Rothe, the creative team for Hold These Truths includes PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director Joseph Haj, scenic designer Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, lighting designer Cat Tate Starmer, costume designer Margaret E. Weedon, music and sound designer Daniel Kluger, dramaturg Jiayun Zhuang, and production stage manager Mary K. Botosan.

“The piece is a 90-minute aria for an actor, and so we also had to work closely with the lighting and sound designers to orchestrate the piece with the right shifts in dynamics and energy,” claims director Lisa Rothe. “In a one-person play that has so many shifts in time, location, and character (36!), the lights and sound become Joel’s scene partners, working together with him to transition from one place to the next. Jeanne gave us all a wonderful template on the page to work from, and then we all worked together to make the story sing effectively off the page….

“The very simple set includes three chairs, a window, a hanging lantern, and a suitcase,” notes Rothe. “These elements evoke Quaker simplicity. The floor is painted red to evoke a bit of the Japanese culture. Together with sound and lights, the design is simple and effective, highlighting the actor and Gordon’s story.”

She adds, “Cat Starmer has done a remarkable job with the lighting design to help us with perceptible shifts in time and space. The lights work in tandem with Daniel Kluger’s beautiful sound design[, and] Meg Weedon has designed a costume of various pieces from the period — that Joel can take off and on to indicate shifts in time….

“It was also a fun challenge working with Joel to develop so many characters and finding ways to help distinguish one character from the next. Each one helps further the story and serves a different purpose,” says Rothe.

Lisa Rothe adds, “This has been a remarkable journey, and I am honored to be working on a play that evokes so much heart and compassion. Gordon was a brave man and set a wonderful example for leading a life full of passionate integrity.”

SECOND OPINION: April 15th Chapel Hill, NC PlayMakers Page-to-Stage blog by production dramaturg Jiayun Zhuang: http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/2014/04/fight-for-these-truths.html; and March 30th New York, NY Backstage Pass with Lia Chang preview by Lia Chang: http://liachang.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/apr-23-27-joel-de-la-fuente-stars-in-jeanne-sakatas-hold-these-truths-at-playmakers-repertory-company/.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents HOLD THESE TRUTHS at 7:30 p.m. April 23-25, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 26, and 2 p.m. April 27 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15 and up, except $10 UNC students and $12 other college students and discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311, prcgroups@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.

SHOW: http://www.playmakersrep.org/holdthesetruths and https://www.facebook.com/HoldTheseTruths.

VIDEO PREVIEWS (from the Off-Broadway production): http://www.asianconnections.com/component/zoo/item/hold-these-truths-video-feature-playwright-jeanne-sakata-star-joel-de-la-fuente-and-director-lisa-rothe.

NEWS RELEASE: http://uncnews.unc.edu/2014/04/10/premiere-truths/.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, and https://twitter.com/playmakersrep.

BLOG: PlayMakers Page to Stage: http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://www.playmakersrep.org/aboutus/kenan.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE: There will be a post-show discussion with the artists and other subject-matter experts following each performance.

OTHER LINKS:

Gordon Hirabayashi (American sociologist, 1918-2012): http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Gordon_Hirabayashi/ (Densho Encyclopedia) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Hirabayashi (Wikipedia).

Hold These Truths (2007 biographical drama) http://www.holdthesetruths.info/Site/Welcome.html (official website).

Jeanne Sakata (Los Angeles playwright): http://www.jeannesakata.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/jeanne.sakata (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/jeannesakata (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_Sakata (Wikipedia).

Lisa Rothe (New York, NY director): http://www.lisarothe.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/lisa.rothe (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/CreativeVoix (Twitter page).

Joel de la Fuente (Hemlock Grove, PA actor): http://www.joeldelafuente.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/thejoeldelafuente (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/joeldelafuente (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_de_la_Fuente (Wikipedia).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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