BWW Review: HOLD THESE TRUTHS at Barrington Stage Company compels audiences to ask: Is this MY America?
In the pre-curtain remarks welcoming patrons to the opening of the 25th season, BSC Artistic Director, Julianne Boyd challenged the audience to ponder: "What would you do to defend the Constitution"? That question paints a well-chosen backdrop and sets the tone, both for the events about to be played out as well as the strong parallels to current affairs that can't be avoided as they do.
Unsung American hero Gordon Hirabayashi fights passionately for the Constitution against an unexpected adversary: his own country. During World War II, he defies the US government's orders to forcibly remove and mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry, launching a 50-year journey from college to courtroom and eventually to a Presidential Medal of Freedom. A story filled with hope; this play will leave you cheering for a man who stood up for the true meaning of patriotism.
This energetic, engaging, and enlightening piece is based on a true story. Playwright, Jeanne Sakata was inspired by many hours of interviews conducted with Hirabayashi and several of his friends from the 1940s; numerous letters written by Hirabayashi during his imprisonment; and articles written by and about him. She describes the work as "blending historical fact with fiction, and certain actual events that have been compressed or altered in terms of chronology or content for dramatic purposes." It works well for the most part, though I did find a couple of the quickly paced transitions a bit awkward.
Joel de la Fuente delivers an impressive performance as Gordon Hirabayashi. Single handedly jumping between storyteller and actor, Fuente changes character countless times at rapid-fire pace throughout the 90-minute production with agility and skill. The lighting design by Cat Tate Starmer is particularly effective as Fuente maneuvers across and through the minimalistic set designed by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams.
Along the journey we are reminded that the principles upon which this nation is founded were not intended to exclude, but rather to embrace and protect those that are "other". We are asked to consider whether G-d can be found in any ONE religious doctrine or if perhaps, we need to look into the hearts of all good people. Also that, whether a chess board is comprised of black squares on a field of white or, of white squares on a field of black is unimportant. As the topics of evacuation and internment of AMERICANS with Japanese ancestry, along with the hysteria and bureaucratic absurdity that ensued, plays out it is virtually impossible not to see the overwhelming parallels to Eastern Europe and "other" oppressed people everywhere. It serves as a poignant, if not slightly painful, reminder that "Never Forget / Never Again" are merely words that although easy to preach, are hollow and meaningless if not practiced.
Processing the powerful piece of theatre that also serves as an important lesson in American History / Civics HOLD THESE TRUTHS provides, the phrase: "those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it" comes to mind. Particularly considering the relatively low level of coverage and general knowledge of this period in our classrooms and citizenry. I was also reminded of another phrase that I am quite fond of: "America - Home of the FREE because of the BRAVE".
Is this our America? Is this your America? Is this MY America? The team at Barrington Stage Company which for this production includes: Director Lisa Rothe, Costume Designer Margaret E. Weedon, Sound Designer Daniel Kluger, and Production Stage Manager Mary K. Botosan are to be applauded for bringing another important, highly relevant, play that makes us think to The Berkshires.
HOLD THESE TRUTHS is sponsored in part by Carol and Alfred Maynard & Dick Ziter and Eric Reimer. With performances Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the St. Germain Stage at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center (36 Linden Street, Pittsfield) tickets are $15-$50 through the Barrington Stage Box Office: 413-236-8888 or online at www.barringtonstageco.org.