Actor Ryun Yu has been on a journey; one that has taken him from first playing this role as a fresh out of drama school actor to now, 12 years and a couple of productions later, playing Gordon Hirabayashi at the legendary Pasadena Playhouse.
Yu spent his youth in Colorado and studied theatre, yes theatre, at MIT in Austin where he is proud to have helped create and establish the drama requirements and be the first to ever graduate from MIT as a drama major. He continued on to London’s famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts where he learned from the masters both in and out of class but where he also first felt the isolation that all ex-patriots experience.
Hold These Truths, written by Jeanne Sakata and directed by Jessica Kubzansky, tells the true story of civil rights hero Gordon Hirabayashi who took his fight all the way to the Supreme Court. As a young man in college, as his friends, family and neighbors were being taken away to the Japanese Internment Camps, Hirabayashi pens a letter to the FBI stating his objection to what he referred to as an unconstitutional act. He was sent to prison.
As Yu talks about the stories of families who were given two weeks to pack two suitcases, he marvels at Hirabayashi’s bravery to be a lone voice among thousands to stand up and say “this is not right.” We have to remember this was a time of massive propaganda against the Japanese with parades and anti-Japanese posters everywhere and the camps had barbed wire fences. Yu finds Hirabayashi’s courage “staggering. That at 23 years old he did this. Gordon said he did it out of his love of the constitution and felt it was his duty to America.” Something else that strikes Yu is Hirabayashi’s Quaker background which softened many of his critics at the time. Yu says “that’s what makes him an American hero. His spine could bend mountains. But he did it all with kindness.”
When asked why in the 1980’s he decided to retry his case after having lost it during the war, Hirabayashi said “so this will never happen again.”
Yu is honored to play this role again explaining that in keeping with the Japanese cultural tradition of slowly improving things over time, he has grown into and from portraying this man. He also points out that Jeanne Sakata spent ten years writing it. And to bring it to the Pasadena Playhouse,a venue he could never envision himself working in as a minority actor, is a dream come true. Yu ultimately feels positive about our current culture describing a “widening weave of the fabric of society to include all of us. The pushback is part of that process. These things need to come to light in order to deal with them. I’m grateful for this opportunity because this is the story I’d like to tell people…with these people.”
Hold These Truths centers on issues of democracy, constitutional laws, and what it means to be an American. Pasadena Playhouse will present Playhouse Talks post-show engagement activities after every performance, as part of Pasadena Playhouse’s mission as the State Theater of California to bring people together to facilitate open and productive conversations with neighbors, friends and community. Hold These Truths is produced in association with East West Players. For a schedule of Playhouse Talks post-show events visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org/HoldTheseTruths.
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Avenue in Pasadena. Performances begin on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 and will run through Sunday, June 25, 2017. Tuesday – Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets range from $25 – $115 Tickets: PasadenaPlayhouse.org, 626-356-7529 or at the Pasadena Playhouse Box Office. Running time 90 minutes.