Ellen Bye Studio

Truths self-evident and the camps

The daughter of a man who built a WWII confinement camp talks with the writer of a play about a Japanese American hero of the fight against incarceration


Hold These Truths is a drama for our time. Set amid the turmoil of America’s entry into World War II, Jeanne Sakata’s one-actor show is about the struggles of the civil rights hero Gordon Hirabayashi, a young student at the University of Washington, to reconcile his passionate belief in the U.S. constitution with the infamous betrayal of Japanese Americans during the war hysteria after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Sakata’s play – which comes, she says, at a time when racism and anti-immigrant hysteria are again on the rise in America – begin previews on Sunday and opens Friday, October 8, in the downstairs Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage. It stars Ryun Yu, who also played the role a year ago at Seattle’s ACT Theatre and in its 2007 world premiere at East West Players in Los Angeles, both times directed by Jessica Kubzansky, who also directs in Portland. Hold These Truths debuts Center Stage’s Northwest Stories series, which will continue with three more shows this season: The Oregon Trail, by Bekah Brunstetter; Astoria: Part 1, Chris Coleman’s new adaptation of Peter Stark’s book; and Wild and Reckless, a new show from the musical group Blitzen Trapper.

Jeanne Sakata, whose first name is pronounced “Jeannie,” is also an accomplished actor who received accolades several years ago for her performances at Portland Center Stage in David Henry Hwang’s M Butterfly and Chay Yew’s Red. She went on to star in a variety of plays all over the world, as well as film and TV shows. She has been called a “local treasure” by the L.A. Times.

Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi in ACT Theatre's 2015 Seattle production of "Hold These Truths." He repeats the role in Portland. Photo: Chris Bennion

Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi in ACT Theatre’s 2015 Seattle production of “Hold These Truths.” He repeats the role in Portland. Photo: Chris Bennion

Knowing that Jeanne was Japanese-American, I requested an interview. I had good reason.


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