BWW Reviews: CVRep's HOLD THESE TRUTHS is a Tour de Force
The clang of a prison door. Impenetrable cell bars projected on the walls, with only a ray of sunshine seeping through a tiny window. A young, frightened prisoner sitting inside wondering whether he will ever see his family again. So ends Act I of Coachella Valley Repertory's (CVRep's) powerful production of Jeanne Sakata's one-actor play, HOLD THESE TRUTHS, a slightly fictionalized biography.
The prisoner, college student Gordon Hirabayashi, born in Seattle in 1918, is the last one anyone would expect to land in legal trouble. His crimes? He refused to obey the curfew imposed on Japanese citizens and Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, refused to follow the order to report for internment, and refused to submit answers to a loyalty questionnaire. This male Rosa Parks served two prison terms (one for 90 days and one for an entire year) and lost his Supreme Court wartime appeal. It was not till 1983 that the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned Mr. Hirabayashi's convictions. In 2012, President Obama posthumously presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, for exhibiting the courage to challenge the government's odious orders.
Actor Blake Kushi, who appears in the HOLD THESE TRUTHS, is not yet a household name, but he deserves to become one. In this production, he plays each character from the heart - especially the protagonist. His versatility enables him to perform multiple characters who speak in Japanese and English and whose voices, accents, and facial expressions differ from each other's. The result is a brilliant performance.
Mr. Kushi is not the only one worthy of accolades in this phenomenal production. Director Ron Celona has staged the play with consummate skill. John Zalewski's sound design, using the sound effects from the original production, Eddie Cancel's lighting design, and Jimmy Cuomo's set and projection designs all give the audience the feeling that they are seeing the events as they unfold.
Playwright Sakata conducted hours of interviews with the late Professor Hirabayashi and his friends, perused his letters, and read contemporary articles about the protagonist and his experiences. The program's playwright notes indicate that she blended history with fiction, and compressed or altered chronology or content for dramatic purposes. This circumstance becomes obvious when Gordon describes hearing the announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack on the radio on Sunday, December 7th, 1941 in a news broadcast that also describes President Roosevelt's immediate declaration of war; not only must Congress (not the President) declare war, but Congress did not do so until December 8th. Nevertheless, to paraphrase a scholar writing in a different context, whether or not something can be taken literally should not detract from its expression of fundamental truths, which is that the United States destroyed the lives of numerous citizens while generating reports disproving the need to do so.
Broadway World spoke to Blake Kushi after a recent performance and asked whether he feared that this blot on the Constitution could be repeated. Mr. Kushi answered that he and Gordon Hirabayashi shared an optimistic outlook about their shared country and its ability to learn from its mistakes. He said, "We believe in America."
Additional crew members include stage manager Louise Ross; Aalsa Lee, costume designer; Karen Goodwin, sound technician; Doug Morris, assistant stage manager, construction, and props; Bryan Champagne, projection consultant; and Lynda Shaeps, hair and makeup.
HOLD THESE TRUTHS is the last play in in CVRep's 2014-15 series exploring the American melting pot; each production focuses on the forces tugging on ethnic Americans as they struggle with their dual identities. HOLD THESE TRUTHS is appearing at CVRep through Sunday, May 3, 2015. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. All performances are $45, except for $15 admissions for students. April 23rd and April 30th are "Talk Back Thursdays."
CVRep is located in The Atrium, at 69930 Highway 111, Suite 116, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 760-296-2966, or by clicking on the link at http://cvrep.org. Box office hours are Mon-Fri from 10:30 a.m. till 2:30 p.m., and two hours prior to each performance.
A study guide for HOLD THESE TRUTHS is available at http://www.holdthesetruths.info/Site/High_School_Tour_files/EWP%20DawnsLight%20Study%20Guide.pdf .
Photo Credit for production shots: Sal Mistretta
Photo Credit for picture of Blake Kushi with flowers: Audrey Liebross