Monday, October 10, 2016

Hold These Truths—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“Carefully Taught” Truths

This one-man show on real-life figure, Gordon Hirabayashi, was written by Jeanne Sakata, stars Ryun Yu (who originated the role) and is directed by Jessica Kubzansky.  It is playing in the Ellyn Bye studio at PCS, 128 NW 11th Ave. (finding parking can be a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through November 13th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Part of my title above comes from a song to the musical, South Pacific.  It refers to a love affair between a white American soldier and a Pacific Islander girl.  It is particularly relevant here as it refers to the fact that children have to be taught to have prejudice, it doesn’t come naturally.  Shame on us!  Another point, some of the rest of the phrase from the title of the play refers to “these truths…to be self-evident…” meaning obvious.  So the rights of American citizens should be obvious, something evidently, in this case, that was not obvious to a President, the military, Congress and the Supreme Court at the time of these incarcerations!

It is probably well known by now that Japanese Americans had their businesses boycotted, lost property and belongings and were eventually transported to camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as possibility being a threat to the country.  Of course, we were also at war with Germany and Italy but citizens that came from those countries were not.  Why?  The color of their skin, being white, would make it difficult to distinguish from other white Americans.  Of course that also meant that anyone of Asian extract, even if from China, Korea, a Pacific Islander, or from another Asian country, was suspect, even if not Japanese, simply because of the color of their skin.  Double shame on us!

Hirabayashi had grown up on the West Coast of the U.S. and went to college here.  But when he and his family were given curfews and then ordered to report to camps (for their own protection, of course, except the guns at these outposts were aimed toward the inside of the camp, not the outside), which were less than appealing quarters for families.  Gordon felt there was something terribly wrong about these restrictions to American citizens and chose to ignore the curfew.  He was arrested and decided to fight in court, contending that these rules/laws were unjust and he demanded due process of law.

His own family wanted him to give up the struggle because it might bring shame on the Japanese people and make them look guilty.  Our Government preferred not to make these restrictions too public and offered to settle with Gordon.  But he held out, eventually getting the support of the ACLU and took his case to the Supreme Court.  He lost the first round and was eventually ordered to spend a short time in prison.  His friends stuck by him, white and Asian, and he eventually married his college sweetheart, Esther, a Quaker lady, and they had a family.  To discover the outcome of his suit, you’ll have to see the play.

Yu does manage to hold your attention for the whole 90 minutes on an essentially bare stage.  I especially liked his portraying many other characters within the story as it showed his terrific versatility.  Sakata tells a powerful and complicated story of this man well, one which is probably not well known to the majority of people.  Kubzansky has kept the set simple with only three chairs, allowing the actor’s talent, the author’s words and the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

One suggestion, though, that both my friend, Chris and I came up with at the same time after the play, is that they have this large white screen stretched across the back of the stage.  Wouldn’t it be even more effective if scenes from various incidents he was talking about, and possibly he and his family and friends, be projected on this during the play, to heighten the story points?

One more thought about “teaching” prejudice.  A close friend of mine, half-Japanese, when just a child, went to the ice cream shop one day with her white cousins, who she played with all the time, and her white uncle bought cones for them all…except her.  The point stuck with her all her life, she was excluded because she was of a different color, different nationally.  As mentioned, prejudiced has to be “taught.”  Our future depends on what kind of things we impart to our children.  I’ve said it before in my blog, and I’ll say it again, as Pope Francis stressed, should we be building Walls or Bridges between peoples/nations?!  Future Generations cry out for an answer….

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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