Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths

Solo Show at Pasadena Playhouse

By: - Jun 10, 2017

"The nail that sticks out is the one that gets hits" says young Gordon Hirabayashi’s father to his eldest son whose outgoing and curious disposition is being tested by the increased discrimination in Washington state against Asian Americans.  Both for Issei (first generation born in Japan) and Nisei (second generation born in the US); with the escalation of the war and the subsequent bombing of Pearl Harbor discrimination increased. It culminated in executive orders to intern all persons of Asian descent in prison camps with no regard to their constitutional rights.

Jeanne Sakata’s “Hold These Truths” is inspired by the true story of civil rights pioneer Gordon Hirabayashi. The 90-minute solo show presents Hirabayashi’s fight to reconcile his country’s betrayal while maintaining passionate belief in the U.S. Constitution. Despite President Obama posthumously awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor in 2012,  his story is unfamiliar to many Americans.

In 1942, the University of Washington student defied the U.S. government by refusing to register and be interned in the desert.  Tens of thousands of Japanese American citizens were viewed as a potential threat to national security after the  invasion of Pearl Harbor.

Hirabayashi, a Quaker pacifist, also rejected signing a loyalty oath and doing military service. For acts of resistance, he served time in prison. His unrelenting efforts to reverse the unconstitutional internment  ended up with a case at the Supreme Court. He lost in a unanimous decision upholding the government’s actions based on “military necessity.”

Paving the way to Hirabayashi’s ultimate victory, legal historian Peter Irons discovered myriad military documents, letters and memos admitting they had not been a necessary security measure.  The camps, they implied, were created out of hysteria and racism. The case was reheard by the Supreme Court in 1987 and justice prevailed.

The timeliness and irony of the situation is not lost on the audience.  They chuckled and sighed at various incidents portrayed on stage.  There is an ironic evocation to the attempt to enforce a travel ban by the Trump administration.

Actor Ryan Yu portrays Hirabayashi from his teens to middle age also playing all other parts of the protagonists and heroes of his life.These include his parents, fraternity brothers at UW, law enforcement officials, Quaker girlfriend and even Supreme Court Justice Patrick Murphy. His energy is taxed during 90-minutes but despite a slight cold, he kept the audience in thrall,.

Kudos to director Jessica Kubzansky (the original director at East/West Players) as well as the excellent technical team of scenic and lighting designing Ben Zamora who does a lot with simplicity.  Sound designer John Zalewski's subtle use of themes and natural sounds adds depth to the production.

Playwright Sakata, a successful actor herself, premiered the play in 2007 at East West Players in Los Angeles. It made its off-Broadway debut in 2012 with the Epic Theatre Ensemble, and has since been performed at numerous regional theatres including Portland Center Stage, the Guthrie Theater, Seattle’s ACT Theatre, and locally by Coachella Valley Rep in Palm Springs.

Says Sakata, “When I discovered Gordon’s story in the late 1990s, so full of heartbreak but also his irrepressible humor and zest for life…I knew I had to bring his story to the American stage.” She’s done a masterful job in showing an intimate view of one of our country’s shameful periods. t

There is a coda to his father’s early admonition. Hirabayashi shares the full text of the proverb  “The nail that sticks out is the one that gets hit…Unless the nail is bigger than the hammer!” That earned applause and a standing ovation. Let’s hear it for more ‘bigly’ nails and less hammers!

“Hold These Truths” is at the Pasadena Playhouse until June 25th. Tickets can be obtained through the Box Office or online at

Reposted courtesy of Lisa Lyons and Desert Local News.