When UW student Gordon Hirabayashi stood up and told the federal government he wouldn't go to a World War II incarceration camp, he became an "accidental" civil rights hero, whose story is now inspiring audiences from coast to coast.
In "Hold These Truths," actor Joel de la Fuente plays Gordon from age 5 to 65 and 36 other colorful characters. De la Fuente has no qualms about performing Gordon's life story in the town where his family members still live.
"If we could have a dream scenario, "Where would we like to do this play?", it's always been the top of the list: SEATTLE," says de la Fuente.
Written by Jeanne Sakata in 2009, it premiered in New York in 2012. De la Fuente says each audience reacts differently. "The further west you travel, the more people are familiar with the incarceration story," he says. "In Hawaii, audiences loved the interaction between the Issei (first generation) and Nisei (second generation) characters and related to the fear when the bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor. In North Carolina, we would talk about civil rights issues and you could feel the audience lean forward in their seat because they take great pride in what they have achieved in the civil rights movement."
De la Fuente is enjoying walking through Seattle where much of the play takes place. He laughs, "I'm very excited seeing the University of Washington and the King County Jail."
The play includes the humorous parts of HIrabayashi's adventures, including hitch-hiking to serve his time at the federal prison in Arizona. There are also the heartbreaking moments. But Hirabayashi stood strong.
De la Fuente concludes: "The amazing thing about Gordon is that he was the most brilliant activist who had no idea he was being an activist. He was just following his heart."
"Hold These Truths" runs Thursday through Sunday (July 31 to August 3, 2014 at 7:30 pm) at Seattle's ACT Theatre with audience discussion following each performance.
Related events: Post-show panel Friday August 1 features UW Asian Studies Professor Steve Sumida, documentary producer Frank Abe and playwright Jeanne Sakata. Saturday August 2, 2 p.m. "From Page to Stage" with Jeanne Sakata, sharing her experiences in researching and writing the play. Concurrent exhibit "Civil Disobedience" at Wing Luke Asian Museum.