“Hold These Truths” tells the story of Gordon Hirabayashi, a Japanese-American who refused to enter internment camps during World War II and was jailed. His conviction was overturned in 1987. Originally written as a one-man play by Jeanne Sakata, the Lyric Stage’s version stars Michael Hisamoto as Hirabayashi, who interacts with three kurogos or silent actors on stage.
“Gordon was the picture of principled resistance, sustained over a lifetime,” said director Benny Sato Ambush. “He insisted he was an American citizen — who looked like he did and had an ancestry like his — and that he be treated equally.”
Ambush is a quarter Japanese. His maternal grandfather Takayuki Yaokawa Sato married his black grandmother Grace Virginia Woods, after coming to America as a cook for a missionary family. Ambush’s mother Shigao Gladys Sato and her four siblings grew up in Cambridge and were not sent to internment camps, as Takayuki Sato had died in 1939. However, his grandmother Grace lost her right to vote, despite her job to register citizens to vote at Cambridge City Hall.
“Gordon had an exemplary resilience,” Hisamoto said. “His power came from the ability to preserve his ideals, amid the greatest stresses.”
Hisamoto can count his American ancestors back five generations. Born in Tokyo to Japanese-American parents who traveled the globe as army brats, Hisamoto was raised in Singapore before moving to Orange County when he was 10. He grew up hearing stories of survival from his Japanese grandparents, who witnessed the Tokyo air raid and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.
“Between my maternal grandma and paternal grandpa, they loved the promise of America, having seen all they saw,” Hisamoto said. “Both my grandparents still believed the world was fundamentally a good place, and America truly made for the betterment of the world.”
Choreographer Jubilith Moore directs the three kurogos Khloe Alice Lin, Gary Thomas Ng and Samantha Richert. The kurogo is an onstage attendant from the kabuki tradition, literally being “one dressed in black” to imply invisibility.
“The three kurogos help transform the spaces Gordon travels through,” Moore said. “Gordon committed the crime of being an active citizen. We need people to say ‘Don’t be quiet.’”
Ambush felt Hirabayashi’s story was timeless, as xenophobic voices today call for Muslim bans and border walls. Hirabayashi was a Quaker, which guided his internal compass.
“Gordon is a patriot and voice of conscience,” Ambush said. “It was not an easy road and he sacrificed tremendously, but he remained true and was right about it.”
“Hold These Truths” will be at the Lyric Stage from Dec. 1 to 31. For more information, visit www.lyricstage.com.
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