BY DYLYN PETERSON
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
I was a bit daunted by the prospect of attending a one-man play about the Japanese internment camps, expecting something equal parts depressing and heavy-handed. My anxiety was not lessened when I entered the theater, the stage adorned only by a desk, a coat rack, a number of wooden boxes in various sizes, and a large backdrop which looked like sun-cracked earth, stretching on for miles. Oof. It was going to be a long night.
The play begins with a discussion of philosophy. It’s written well enough, so I don’t especially mind. It comes alive, though, when we dive into the childhood of the main character, Gordon Hirabayashi. He tells a really depressing story of meeting a dog on the road that had been run over by a car, and his attempts to help it before a white man with a shotgun yells racial slurs at him and proceeds to shoot the dog. Ouch.
It’s around there where I noticed that Greg Watanabe is an incredible actor. He can switch characters instantaneously, with appropriate accents and body language. He manages to play a game of catch with himself. In the entire play, easily over two hours, he messed up his lines twice.
We follow Gordon’s life through to his experiences in college. He has a vacation (I believe) in New York City, where we get our first taste of the incredible lighting in this production. After he returns, the attack on Pearl Harbor happens, as we learn from a few accounts, and have confirmed by a radio broadcast, which also works really well. Tensions run high, especially when a curfew is instituted exclusively on Japanese-Americans. One night, after an encounter with a roving band of racists, he decides to stay out and study in his university’s library. This will come back to bite him later.
Then, the camps are instituted. Everyone of Japanese ancestry must sell off all but two suitcases’ worth of their property, and report to the camps. Gordon decides that this is stupid, and thus refuses to go, against the protests of his family and friends. He ends up being arrested, and spends a night in a police station with a sheriff who really doesn’t want to be responsible for the one guy in the United States who refused to report to the camps. He holds through, and ends up in jail for his trouble.
It’s here where the lighting becomes impossible to ignore, as it turns the backdrop into the walls of Gordon’s jail cell, the barbed wire of the internment camps, and later, a lonely road stretching forever into the distance. Whoever was in charge of the projector deserves several gallons of ice cream. A week. For the next ten years.
Gordon decides to fight it out in court. He is not able to pay bail and leave his cell during his trial, which is pretty ridiculous, when you get down to business. He ends up being one of three people who refuse to report to the internment camps, and they take it all the way to the Supreme Court, who, of course, unanimously agree that the camps are completely fine according to the constitution. Jeez. He ends up being charged with refusing to enter the camps and also for skipping out on the curfew.
He ends up requesting more prison time than he is sentenced to in order to make it into a work camp and spend his sentence out in the sun, which is possibly the manliest thing anyone has ever done. The judge agrees to this, but the nearest work camp is in Arizona, and the court can’t/won’t pay for his travel fees. He tells them that he intends on taking a bus, but ends up hitchhiking all the way there from Washington instead, which might be the second manliest thing of all time. Upon arriving in Arizona, the people working in the prison he’s sentenced to can’t find his paperwork, and tell him that he’s a free man. Seeking not to have this come back and interrupt his life after America gets its act together, he tells them to look harder, and spends one last night of freedom in an (air-conditioned) movie theater. Which, c’mon, this guy must’ve had enough testosterone to bottle it up and sell it as a sports drink.
Long story short, forty years after losing his battle for freedom, the Supreme Court rules against the camps, again unanimously. Try not to cry too hard during that scene.
Hold These Truths was amazing. The performance was spectacular, the special effects were perfect, the set was as versatile as a Swiss Army Knife, and the script did its subject justice. Who would’ve thought a story about systemic oppression could’ve been so hilarious? I never thought I’d give this score to anything, but I give Hold These Truths seven tears covertly wiped onto the sleeve of a jacket out of seven.