* Denotes items that are $15 or less
Hold These Truths
“Deru kugi wa utareru.” That’s the Japanese proverb that says: "The nail that sticks out is the one that gets hit." It’s a missive to keep your head down, not make a fuss, obey.
Faced with the ugly reality of a racist U.S. mandate to intern everyone of Japanese ancestry during World War II, Gordon Hirabayashi refused to conform. As a UW student, he defied a campus curfew, then stared down the mandate by turning himself into the FBI.
Joel de la Fuente stars as Gordon Hirabayashi. Credit: Lia Chang
Hirabayashi was convicted and imprisoned, then 40 years later, after he was a husband, father and professor, he was vindicated when a court overturned his conviction.
“It’s a great story that I could never have invented,” says playwright Jeanne Sakata, whose “Hold These Truths” opens at ACT this weekend. "When I discovered the story, I was so enthralled.
The Los Angeles-based Sakata, a Japanese American actor, came across a documentary about Hirabayashi in the early 1990s. Decades ago, when she was performing in Seattle, she went to the UW libraries and found Hirabayashi’s wartime letters. She also found a college student who put her in touch with Hirabayashi, who by then was living in Canada. Sakata interviewed him as well as his brothers and she weaves details and anecdotes into "Hold These Truths", her first play. Some of those details: how Hirabayashi, as a child: used to play in an ofuro, an outdoor wooden bath; how Hirabayashi as a college student winds up in New York City and encounters a freedom of not being discriminated against because of his ancestry, in contrast to his experience pre Executive Order in Seattle.
This is the first time Sakata’s 2007 play is being performed in Seattle. Hirabayashi never got to see it. He passed away in 2012, suffering from Alzheimer's in his later years. But Sakata sent him a program when the play premiered and as the story goes, his wife read it aloud to him. "And she said he kind of nodded," Sakata says. "We're not sure how he understood that the play had premiered. But we hope he did."
If you go: ACT Theatre, July 31-Aug. 3 (Tickets start at $20). Jeanne Sakata gives a talk about her work on Aug. 2 —F.D.
Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado *
Seattle's Gilbert and Sullivan Society drew a firestorm of criticism (electronic invective and picket signs, too) for its recent production of “The Mikado.” Is it racist? Is it art? Should a white person ever wear a kimono on stage? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I refer you to Google. (And if you want to weigh in, I invite you to a public forum entitled: “Artistic Freedom vs. Artistic Responsibility” on Aug. 18 at The Seattle Rep).
Now, on the heels of all this comes another production of “The Mikado” and I’m recommending it because given the recent explosion of emotions, it’s worth considering a different take on how to produce it. First off, the actors are all kids. (I don’t know what their racial makeup is). The setting isn’t Japan; it’s in some anime, cartoonish place. And the costumes include (pink) wigs.
I'm talking about a Seattle Opera/Seattle Public Theater Youth Program production (and I have to believe the folks in charge considered every opinion that’s out there before deciding to proceed with the show). This won’t be the usual British satirical Mikado, explain the grownup directors Kelly Kitchens and Barbara Lynne Jamison. “Instead, taking a fresh, 21st century perspective, we set our opera in a place familiar and relevant to young people who are growing up in a globalized world of anime, manga, and harajuku street fashion."
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!