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‘Hold These Truths’ performed at PlayMakers

Courtesy of Lia Chang

Courtesy of Lia Chang

America: land of the free — unless in a time of war.

PlayMakers Repertory Company will chronicle one Japanese American’s fight against the U.S. government during World War II tonight with “Hold These Truths,” a one-man play by Jeanne Sakata that tells the story of Gordon Hirabayashi,as a part of the “PRC2” series.

Hirabayashi, a Japanese American, found himself battling for the most basic of rights after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

In 1943, Hirabayashi was found guilty of violating both the curfew and internment orders implemented by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Between sentencing and appeals, he spent almost a year in prison. 

Forty years later, Hirabayashi’s case was overturned, and in April 2012, President Obama posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Jeffrey Meanza, PlayMakers’ associate artistic director, brought the play to Chapel Hill as this year’s last play of the season after seeing it in New York City. It is also the last play in the company’s PRC2 series, which features conversation-starting presentations and post-show discussions to engage audiences. 

“(‘Hold These Truths’) is about a topic that’s not discussed certainly in the discourse of theater,” Meanza said.

“There aren’t a lot of plays about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. There isn’t a lot of public discourse in general about that period of American history.”

Originally performed on the west coast as “Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi,” the play was renamed “Hold These Truths” to better suit east coast audiences who might not be as familiar with the subject. 

Director Lisa Rothe noticed that audiences discussed the play differently based on where they were — when “Dawn’s Light” was performed in Hawaii, most of the audience either was or knew someone who was directly affected by the internment camps whereas in New York it served more as an intellectual exercise.

Despite the discrepancies in familiarity, Rothe said the play demonstrates the universal idea that history repeats itself.

Joel de la Fuente, who plays Hirabayashi, said “Hold These Truths” is a challenging play and similar to a marathon in that both require a lot of stamina, focus and discipline.

De la Fuente, who has appeared on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Hemlock Grove,” has experienced taking jobs to earn his living, but said he loves looking for a great story in his projects.

“I feel like it’s a great sense of responsibility to tell (Hirabayashi’s) story, and so, it’s funny, the dichotomy between bringing everything I am into it while at the same time trying to forget who I am while I do it,” he said.

While the play focuses on the Hirabayashi’s history, Rothe said the play is relatable.

“It is beyond the story of one man and his struggle, and it’s much more universal,” Rothe said. “I think it’s about the struggle to be human and to be heard and to be seen.”

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