“Hold These Truths” at ACT

Imagine if you will, a bare stage. Its square floor of polished wood is empty but for three wooden chairs. A large white projection screen serves as a backdrop. That’s it! Just about as minimalist as you can imagine, but with brilliant lighting effects and one gifted actor, this show will grab your emotions, and its content will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

Most of us hang our heads in shame when we are reminded of the forced removal and incarceration, of our fellow citizens, our Japanese neighbors, during World War II. “Hold These Truths” by Jeanne Sakata and directed here by Jessica Kubzansky, tells the story of the young man who refused to comply with this unconstitutional legislation. Gordon Hirabayashi, a University of Washington student, knew his Constitution and knew his rights. The exclusion order was racially discriminatory, and he refused to go along with it.

Gordon went to prison, appealed his conviction all the way up to the United States Supreme Court where he lost his case. His conviction wasn’t overturned until 1987 long after he had obtained his Doctorate and was a professor of sociology.

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Photo by Michael Lamont

We know this tale. There’s little new here, but its presentation is compelling. The story with all its pain, fear, outrage, and sadness comes to life on this unadorned stage. The excellent Ryun Yu makes us feel the bewilderment, even naiveté, of Gordon as this inconceivable law is pronounced and then acted upon. We understand the fear and grief of his parents. We recoil at the prejudice he encounters at school in the early days after Pearl Harbor. We are awestruck by his bravery. We even laugh at the humor the author embeds at certain points.

The lighting by scenic and lighting designer Ben Zamora is as significant a part of this production’s success as the story and acting. He creates not only mood and emotion, but place too. And he does it all with color.

The low points in American history are as important to remember as are the triumphs. Here you’ll find a gripping exploration of one of our country’s least admirable actions.

Through August 16, at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org)

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