By Lia Chang
As Gordon Hirabayashi, Joel de la Fuente is a revelation in his nuanced tour-de-force portrayal of Gordon, seamlessly transforming into 30+ other characters throughout the course of The Epic Theatre Ensemble’s New York premiere of Jeanne Sakata’s critically-acclaimed solo play Hold These Truths (formerly known as Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi), directed by Lisa Rothe, which recently played an extended run at The Theatre at the 14th Street Y in New York. (Click on the blue link above or here for the full feature and videos.)
Playwright Jeanne Sakata was inspired by a true story to write Hold These Truths, which is set in Seattle during World War II, where University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi is agonizing over U.S. government orders to forcibly remove and mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast. As he fights to reconcile his country’s betrayal with his passionate belief in the U.S. Constitution, Hirabayashi journeys toward a greater understanding of America’s triumphs — and a confrontation with its failures.
President Obama posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Gordon Hirabayashi (1918-2012), the nation’s highest civilian honor, in April 2012.
Check out the Rave Reviews.
THE NEW YORKER
“One of the stunning things about Joel de la Fuente’s performance in Jeanne Sakata’s gripping one-man show is how completely he embodies the real-life character of Gordon Hirabayashi….de la Fuente, under the direction of Lisa Rothe, also plays many other characters—Hirabayashi’s parents, his college friends, police, lawyers, judges, a Hopi Indian—but his portrayal of Hirabayashi, whom President Obama just this year posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, feels eerily true to life.”
“Jeanne Sakata’s eloquent one-man drama about civil rights giant Gordon Hirabayashi…. provides a concise examination of a fascinating chapter in American history…Joel de la Fuente plays Hirabayashi with buoyant, magnetic enthusiasm, under the direction of Lisa Rothe.”
TIMES SQUARE CHRONICLES
“A fabulous Joel de la Fuente….Ms. Sakata is a wonderful playwright who conveys emotions and words with a poetry that is full of humor and knowledge.”
JAPAN CULTURE NYC
“Hold These Truthsis lighthearted, witty, and laugh-out-loud funny…. Joel de la Fuente does a tremendous job as Gordon, endearing himself to the audience with Gordon’s exuberance ….Both Sakata and de la Fuente emphasize the no-nonsense firmness within Gordon, whose deeply patriotic spirit and uncompromising faith allowed him to take on the US government as an American citizen.”
“…A shining play beautifully written by Jeanne Sakata…. resonates with vitality and power…de la Fuente’s stirring, layered portrayal of Hirabayashi, and his spot-on ironic and humorous portrayals of Hirabayashi’s parents, friends and people he meets along his journey, propel us toward a mixture of emotions, reminding us that this could happen again if we are not careful. Lisa Rothe’s excellent directing choices and Sakata’s emotionally uplifting rendering of this heroic soul adhere flawlessly. This is what living, breathing theater is about. Unforgettable.”
“It takes a deft dramatic hand to craft moving theatre out of social history and courtroom drama, and a nuanced actor to portray the passage of time and multiple characters. The Epic Theatre production of Jeanne Sakata‘sHold These Truthsreveals just such deftness of hand and actor nuance. Moving, instructive, thrilling….Travel downtown to be inspired by script, actor, and history in equal measure….Culled to its human and emotional essence, we hold Hirabayashi’s story as we must all ‘hold these truths.’”
Below are interviews with Hold These Truths‘ playwright Jeanne Sakata, star Joel de la Fuente and director Lisa Rothe.
Hold These Truths‘ playwright Jeanne Sakata talks about her inspiration to write Gordon Hirabayashi’s life story, how she did her research, why she chose the solo show format and what she hopes audiences will take away from de la Fuente’s performance.
Hold These Truths‘ star Joel de la Fuente talks about the challenges of playing 30+ characters and the impact playing Gordon Hirabayashi has had for him.
Director Lisa Rothe discusses how she first became involved with Hold These Truths, her history with Joel de la Fuente, how attending a Quaker meeting influenced her design and concept of the set, her prior knowledge of Gordon Hirabayashi, and her exposure to the internment camps.
Jeanne Sakata has been honored to make her playwriting debut in recent years with her solo Hold These Truths (formerlyDawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi). The play had its world premiere in 2007 at East West Players, co-presented by the Japanese American National Museum, the UCLA Department of Asian American Studies, and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and was subsequently chosen by the Epic Theatre Ensemble and the Lark Play Development Center for their first joint presentation, as well as by the New York Theatre Workshop to be showcased at their 2009 Dartmouth Residency. Most recently, the play was performed at Chicago’s Pritzker Pavilion with Silk Road Rising/Millennium Park as part of the Park’s 2011 IN THE WORKS New Plays Series. It was also presented in the Epic Theatre Ensemble’s 2010 Passion Play Festival with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, at the University of California at Riverside, the 16th Annual Conference of the Japan Studies Association in Honolulu, at Japanese American Citizens League Day of Remembrance events in Sacramento and Salinas, California, and at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where it was the inspiration and theatrical centerpiece of the civil rights symposium “Civil Liberties, National Security and the Legacies of the Japanese Removal and Incarceration.” With the East West Players Theatre for Youth program in 2008 and 2010, the play has twice toured high schools and junior high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. HOLD THESE TRUTHS is now part of the Library of Congress Playwrights Archive in the Asian American Pacific Islander Collection in Washington DC, where Sakata’s working script was recently on view in the Thomas Jefferson Building in conjunction with the Library of Congress celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
Jeanne is also an acclaimed stage and screen actress, performing in 2011-2012 in the title role of Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession in the Antaeus Theatre Company’s Classics Fest, Daniel Akiyama’s A Cage of Fireflies at the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab, Julia Cho’s The Language Archive at East West Players, Seven at USC, and Don Nguyen’s Red Flamboyant at the Ojai Playwrights Festival. Jeanne has also performed with The Public Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, Kennedy Center, Mark Taper Forum, La Jolla Playhouse, South Coast Rep, American Conservatory Theater, Northlight Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Berkeley Rep, A Contemporary Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Syracuse Stage and Arizona Theatre Company, and is a member of LA’s renowned classical group The Antaeus Company. Screen credits include playing Mom Wanda to Olivia Munn in the 2012 feature comedy The Babymakers, Tyler Perry’s “Meet The Browns,” “Desperate Housewives,” “ER,” “Threat Matrix,” “Line of Fire,” “Presidio Med,” “American Family,” “NUMB3RS,” John Ridley’s “I Got You,” the MOW’s “The Reading Room,” “Hiroshima,” “Consensual Relations,” and the feature films XXX2: State of The Unionand American Fusion.
Jeanne’s special awards and honors include an LA Ovation Award for Best Lead Actress for her portrayal of male Beijing Opera star Master Hua in Chay Yew’s Red at EWP, a 2011 Outstanding Artist Award for her career achievements by Los Angeles’ Asian Pacific American Friends of the Theatre, an Entertainment Today Award for Best Supporting Actress in Chay Yew’s A WINTER PEOPLE at Theatre @ Boston Court, a StageScene “Best of 2007” Outstanding Performance mention for her performance as Maria Callas in EWP’s MASTER CLASS, and a DramaLogue Award for Outstanding Performance for her work in Jean Genet’s THE MAIDS at EWP. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 36 years, Timothy Patterson. For further information on Jeanne and HOLD THESE TRUTHS, please see:
Most recently, Joel de la Fuente has appeared onstage playing Vershinin inThe Three Sisters, directed by Brian Mertes at the Chautauqua Theatre Conservatory. On screen, de la Fuente stars in the feature film Brief Reunion, which just won the Audience Choice Award at the Gotham International Film Festival and in the upcoming film, Forgetting the Girl, which also took home Audience Award honors at the Soho International Film Festival. Selected New York theatrical credits include: Ivanov inIvanov (Mint Theater/NAATCO, Jonathan Bank, dir.); The Downtown Plays(Tribeca Theater Festival, John Rando, dir.); Claudio in Beatrice and Benedict with the New York Philharmonic (conducted by Sir Colin Davis);The Square (Lisa Petersen, dir.); America Dreaming (Michael Mayer, dir.); Valentine in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (NYSF, Adrian Hall, dir.). In 2005, Joel de la Fuente served as the Artistic Associate of the National Asian American Theater Company. In addition to Ivanov, he has also appeared with NAATCO in the world premiere of Cowboy v. Samurai; Air Raid;Fuente Ovejuna (David Herskovitz, dir.); and as Iago in Othello (also directed by Jonathan Bank). Other theatrical credits include: Ariel in The Tempest (Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey); Florizel in The Winter’s Tale (Williamstown Theatre Festival, Darko Tresjnak, dir.); Chay Yew’sWonderland (La Jolla Playhouse, Lisa Petersen, dir.); Liu Mengmei in the Peter Sellars’ production of The Peony Pavilion which performed in Vienna, Rome, Paris, and London’s Barbican Centre with original music composed by Tan Dun. On television, de la Fuente has spent ten seasons appearing as TARU technician Ruben Morales in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” He was a series regular on the Fox drama, “Space: Above & Beyond;” and has had recurring roles on: “E.R.;” “High Incident;” and the Sidney Lumet series, “100 Centre Street.” Joel can be seen next Spring in the new series, “Hemlock Grove,” exclusively on Netflix. Additional film credits include: Personal Velocity (Sundance Jury Prize Winner, Best Film); The Adjustment Bureau; The Happening; Heights;Return to Paradise; From Other Worlds. As a writer, de la Fuente’s essay on his experiences as an Asian American actor is published in Pyong Gap Min’s “Struggle for Ethnic Identity,” and he is a co-writer of “Life Document 2: Identity” with Ayad Akthar, which won the Columbia Students Award for Best Film in 2002. Joel de la Fuente is an alumnus of Brown University and the Graduate Acting Program at N.Y.U.www.joeldelafuente.com/Twitter: @joeldelafuente
Most recently, Lisa Rothe directedPenelope by Ellen McLaughlin & Sarah Kirkland Snider at Playmakers Repertory Company and is currently developing a new opera about Ada Byron (Ada) by composer Kim Sherman and librettist Margaret Vandenburg, which was presented this spring as a part of the Center for Contemporary Opera’s Development Series. She has workshopped, developed and directed over one hundred new plays and musicals, working with award winning writers such as James Still, Karen Hartman, Anna Ziegler and Pulitzer nominated and Grammy winner, Rinde Eckert. In NY, Lisa has directed and/or developed work with The Foundry, New Georges, Epic Theatre Ensemble, Lark Play Development Center, Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST) , 52nd Street Project, Naked Angels, New York Theatre Workshop, The Public Theater, BAM, Summer Play Festival (SPF), NYMF, Midtown International Theatre Festival (Best Director), The Women’s Project, National Actors Theater, Keen Company (Keen Teens), Orchard Project, Voice & Vision, HERE, Dixon Place. Regionally, she has worked with Synchronicity Theatre, Chautauqua Theatre, Vermont Stage Company, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Shakespeare Theatre, The New Harmony Project, Riverside Theatre, Seaside Shakespeare (Nantucket), among others. Lisa is also the director of Offsite Programs and Partnerships at the Lark Play Development Center where she deals with providing expanded opportunities for playwrights, aimed at advancing new work to production nationally and globally. She has also spent time in Ethiopia, creating theatre with the children of the World Wide Orphans Foundation (WWO). She has taught and directed at many theatre programs around the country including NYU’s Graduate Acting Program, Yale School of Drama, The Juilliard School, Chautauqua Conservatory and many others. Lisa is a graduate of NYU’s Graduate Acting Program and Director’s Lab, as well as a Drama League alum, Fox Fellow, member of the Women’s Project Director’s Lab and is on the boards of the League of Professional Theatre Women and the Theatre World Awards.