Theatre loves history. Playwrights throughout time have borrowed their plots from historical events, often using true stories from the past to make satirical or cautionary points about their present time. Greek playwrights from the classical era looked back into history, to the Trojan War in particular, to make points about their current social and political struggles. Aeschylus’ great trilogy, the Oresteia, cautioned his own citizens to use reason and law rather than blood-driven revenge to resolve disputes. Euripides’ later plays like Orestes were lamenting the disintegration of Athenian culture in the chaos of the Peloponnesian wars. Shakespeare, in his history plays, often used parallels to current events to disguise his satire or political criticism so that the forces in power would not see the jab. Jean Anouilh used the Antigone story to skewer totalitarian power right under the nose of the Nazi occupation. And Arthur Miller set his denunciation of McCarthyism in the Salem, Massachusetts of the 17th century. Historical drama will always have a place in the theatre, for it reminds us not only of what we are, but of what we always have been, at our most glorious and our very worst.
In this last horrible year, we have been reminded of our spectacular human resilience in the face of the COVID pandemic, but we have also been forced to face the systemic racism that underlies our American culture when the racism embedded in our society raised its ugly head with the George Floyd murder as it had before with the hate aimed at Muslim Americans in the wake of 9/11, with the recurrent rise of anti-Semitism, and with the racism aimed at Asian Americans after the trumped-up characterization of the “Chinese virus.” And much as our choice of Cabaret several seasons ago was meant as a wake-up call to the dangers of totalitarianism in the world and at home, we now present Hold These Truths, to remind us that we must be more vigilant than ever if we are to avoid being condemned to repeat such an ugly period in our history as the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. This was the most inexcusable kind of racism, without any moral basis, and despite Gordon Hirabayashi’s impassioned pleas, was inexplicably upheld by a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court asserting that it was indeed constitutional to intern American citizens. In her essential play, Jeanne Sakata employs history from only 80 years ago to remind us we still very much need the wake-up call, still have far to go till we can truly “Hold These Truths.”
– Artistic Director
Wera V. W.
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