It’s al­ways time to af­firm that we hold these truths

Los Angeles Times - - CAL­EN­DAR - charles.mc­nulty@la­times.com Twit­ter: @charlesm­c­nulty

The story of Gor­don Hirabayashi, an Amer­i­can­born col­lege stu­dent of Ja­panese an­ces­try who chal­lenged the ex­ec­u­tive or­der de­mand­ing mass in­car­cer­a­tion of all peo­ple of Ja­panese her­itage on the West Coast after the at­tack on Pearl Har­bor, re­minds us that it is pre­cisely when our bedrock val­ues are hard­est to de­fend that we must stand most firmly be­hind them.

The play, which is the prod­uct of in­ter­views the play­wright con­ducted with Hirabayashi as part of her re­search, may be earnestly laid out.

This isn’t a prob­ing char­ac­ter study. Rhetor­i­cal flour­ishes at the be­gin­ning and end seem stilted, and the per­son­al­ity tid­bits that are in­tro­duced feel a bit forced. Di­rec­tor Jes­sica Kubzan­sky prob­a­bly should have cut the cutesy by­play be­tween Yu and the au­di­ence.

Sakata suc­ceeds best when sim­ply lay­ing out the facts of the story. What makes what hap­pened to Hirabayashi so painful is that it con­tra­dicted the demo­cratic prin­ci­ples that in­spired his pa­tri­otic love and loy­alty de­spite the racism he and his fam­ily were sub­jected to. But his be­lief in jus­tice never wa­vers even when the Supreme Court be­trays his un­der­stand­ing of cher­ished con­sti­tu­tional pre­cepts.

Yu, who is repris­ing his per­for­mance, slips into his char­ac­ter at var­i­ous stages of his life with the same ease with which he dons Hirabayashi’s com­fort­able col­lege cardi­gan. The ac­tor ra­di­ates good­will with­out seem­ing soppy.

Cer­tain char­ac­ter traits may be il­lus­trated with the broad­ness of an “Af­ter­school Spe­cial.” But Yu eas­ily wins over our trust and af­fec­tion. More im­por­tant, the moral comes through loud and clear: If Amer­i­cans such as Hirabayashi have to be rounded up, then no one in Amer­ica should ever feel safe.

Kubzan­sky’s clean stag­ing on a set by Ben Zamora (who is also re­spon­si­ble for the at­trac­tive light­ing) pro­vides an ef­fec­tive show­case for us to en­gage with this his­tory. Hirabayashi’s tale once again “couldn’t be more timely.”

For those right now ag­o­niz­ing that Amer­ica is fail­ing to live up to its ideals, “Hold These Truths” gives hope that the arc of the moral uni­verse does in­deed even­tu­ally bend to­ward jus­tice.

Jim Cox

RYUN YU por­trays Gor­don Hirabayashi, who chal­lenged the ex­ec­u­tive or­der de­mand­ing in­car­cer­a­tion of all peo­ple of Ja­panese her­itage on the West Coast.

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