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Review: HOLD THESE TRUTHS at SF Playhouse

Gordon Hirabayashi's five-decade struggle for redemption comes to life in this historical drama.

Review: HOLD THESE TRUTHS at SF Playhouse

Hold These Truths

Written by Jeanne Sakata

Directed by Jeffrey Lo

SF Playhouse

The story of Gordon Hirabayashi's five-decade struggle for justice after the forced detention of Japanese-Americans during WWII is powerfully recreated in Jeanne Sakata's lovingly researched historical drama, buoyed by a stellar performance by Jomar Tagatac.

The stirring words of equality in the Declaration of Independence are deeply ingrained in the youthful Hirabayashi, closely aligned with his Quaker beliefs of pacifism and mystical optimism. Even after discovering his "otherness" through overt racism, he's eager to belong in American society and he's off to college and work, where he experiences more abuse at the University of Washington. Yes, he has white friends, but as the war nears, xenophobia is common. After Pearl Harbor, the fate of Japanese-Americans is sealed.

Review: HOLD THESE TRUTHS at SF Playhouse
The real Gordon Hirabayashi. Photo by Sharon Maeda.

I fell in love with Jomar Tagatac after his performances in "You Mean to Do Me Harm", "King of the Yees", "The Language Archive" and "Tiny Beautiful Things". Here he delivers a marvelously nuanced portrait displaying both the vulnerability of a man challenged by a great injustice and the strength of perseverance and determination to challenge a system and right a great wrong.

Hold These Truths shines a light on one the many atrocities perpetrated within our own borders. The irony that Hirabayashi has a Hopi Indian friend is not lost, and parallels can be drawn between the actions here and systemic racism against Blacks, Native Americans and anti-LGBT violence. The shock and disbelief Tagatac displays when Executive Order 9066 orders forced relocations riles the righteous anger in us all.

Review: HOLD THESE TRUTHS at SF Playhouse
Jomar Tagatac

Sakata raises an important issue here: during war, can due process be negated? At what point does national security override the Constitution? The Supreme Court weighs in on the Hirabayashi court case and affirms the Executive Order in June 1943. By the war's end, when things go back to 'normal', the damage has been done. Japanese-Americans had their lives destroyed, the possessions ripped off at fire-sale prices and their self-worth and identities crushed. It would take decades to repair the horror.

In 1987, after hidden evidence is discovered Hirabayashi is redeemed, and his convictions vacated. Tagatac brings us along on the ride that arcs between youthful eagerness, an awareness of reality, resignation that America is not fair for all to a bittersweet victory. Meaty roles like this, based on historical figures, with beautiful dialogue and great significance don't come around that often. Tagatac and Director Jeffery Lo work their magic supported by excellent lighting by Heather Kenyon, sound by Teddy Hulsker and scenic design by Christopher Fitzer.

Hirabayashi was taught that the 'the nail that sticks out gets hit". As a metaphor for his dogged perseverance, he hoped that "It's good if the hammer is smaller than the nail". Hold These Truths is a feel-good story illustrating that justice may not be swift but is available. It also makes for must-see theater.

In-person performances June 8 - July 3, 2021 (performance schedule TBA). For tickets or more information, the public may contact the San Francisco Playhouse box office at 415-677-9596, or online at

Photo credit: Jessica Palopoli

From This Author - Steve Murray

Steve Murray is a writer for Cabaret Scenes magazine, contributor to ForAllEvents and now BroadwayWorld. He started writing rock reviews for his college newspaper in the 1970’s, produced a variety... (read more about this author)

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