Arts theater review

To the very brink of the constitution

What it means to be free

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Hirabayshi (Michael Hisamoto) in one of the more serious scenes of the play
Courtesy of The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Hold These Truths
By Jeanne Sakata
Directed by Benny Sato Ambush
The Lyric Stage

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal.” With these words, the basis of the Constitution was crafted. With these words, one of the most enduring documents in American history was conjured out of thin air. So many of our modern liberties can be traced back to this sheet of paper. And yet, Hold These Truths asks the question, “How faithful is our own government to the Constitution?”

The story is based on Gordon Hirabayashi’s (Michael Hisamoto) struggle to fight against Executive Order 9066. Set against WWII, Hold These Truths is a powerful tale about liberty and the rights afforded to an American citizen.

The audience sits in silence, enveloped by darkness. From the stage we hear a slow creaking noise and a single spotlight shines down on Gordon Hirabayashi. A few seconds pass, but he is still unmoving. Here, the audience truly gets to see Hisamoto’s power to take control of the stage even when he doesn’t utter a word.

Hold These Truths is a unique production by American standards. Not only is the play performed by one person, but it also showcased the kurogo. In traditional Japanese kabuki, the kurogo are essentially stagehands. The only difference is that they dress in all black. The kurogo try to blend into the scenery to lend a certain kind of dynamism to the story. Each scene is powerful, brought together by the combination of Hisamoto’s talent and the kurogo acting in tandem. Hirabayashi would recall certain conversations from his memory to be reenacted by kurogo.

From humble beginnings in his hometown in Washington, Hirabayashi takes us on a tour of his life. We see him go to college to find freedom that a strict Japanese household never would have afforded him. Next, he is catapulted into a leadership program at the YMCA of New York. Like magic, Hisamoto is able to captivate the audience with nothing more than his smile. There is almost a personal connection that he forges with us as we lean forwards in our seats. This isn’t a flashback that the audience gets to watch. It’s as though we are pulled into the world of Hirabayashi. Its effectiveness is amplified by the town hall seating that the Lyric Stage offers. I was tense, waiting for some sort of happy ending for this person who I’ve never met before. It was then that I realized that this is not just a play whose message was shrouded in the mist of history. This is a story that is just as relevant in 1942 as it is now in 2017.

In a time of political confusion, it’s hard to really understand if one’s liberties are truly secured by the Constitution. It’s harder still to believe that our government is trying to protect everyone. What Hold These Truths hopes to say is that it’s absolutely necessary to discover these answers for yourself and to fight for the rights that you think you deserve. As Hirabayashi remarked in the play, “It’s a matter of principle.”