Greg Watanabe Returning to Bay Area for Dramatic Reading of ‘Hold These Truths’

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SAN FRANCISCO — Fresh from his Broadway debut in George Takei’s “Allegiance,” Greg Watanabe will be returning to the Bay Area for a concert dramatic reading of “Hold These Truths.”

The performance will take place on Saturday, Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, 2 Marina Blvd. in San Francisco.

Greg Watanabe

Local performing arts fans will remember Watanabe from his work with the comedy sketch group 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors and with the Asian American Theater Company.

The San Francisco chapter of the Japanese American Citizens’ League has chosen to present Jeanne Sakata’s play at this time because it brings to life the courageous actions of Gordon Hirabayashi, who challenged the government’s orders to forcibly remove and incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast during World War II. Hirabayashi’s case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where he was not successful, but he was vindicated 44 years later and posthumously awarded the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“When I discovered Gordon’s story in the late 1990s – so full of heartbreak, but also his irrepressible humor and zest for life – it was a life-changing experience,” said Sakata. “I knew I had to try to bring his story to the American stage, not just as an act of healing for myself, my family and my community, but also to inspire and give hope to any American citizen who has been denied equal treatment under the law promised by our Constitution because of factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and who must battle constantly to make those promises a living reality.”

A student at the University of Washington at the time, Hirabayashi fought a curfew that was imposed only on Japanese Americans, then the mass roundup under Executive Order 9066. As he struggled to reconcile his country’s betrayal with his passionate belief in the Constitution, he journeyed toward a greater understanding of America’s triumphs — and a confrontation with its failures.

“Hold These Truths” was first produced in 2007 by East West Players in Los Angeles under the title “Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi.”

The plot has a strong and timely message about civil rights, the Constitution, and one man’s battle against civil liberty violations. The evening performance will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by SF-JACL’s John Hayashi with Watanabe and attorneys Dale Minami and Don Tamaki, who worked on the coram nobis court cases of the 1980s. The evening will conclude with a reception.

Jeanne Sakata

Generous support has been received by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program and proceeds from the performances will benefit the SF JACL’s arts and advocacy activism programs and anti-bullying education.

Tickets for the 2 pm. show are $25 general, $20 for seniors. Tickets for the 7 p.m. show are $50 general, $100 VIP (reserved seating and acknowledgment in printed program), $40 for early birds (before Nov. 1), $45 for JACL members. For tickets or more information, email [email protected]

Recommended for ages 14 and up. Contains mature language. Estimated run time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

• San Francisco JACL is dedicated to promoting and protecting civil rights for everyone, primarily through education. It also serves the San Francisco Japantown community by holding events throughout the year and supporting other community organizations and causes. The chapter is an active and visible member of the Japantown community, working with other community organizations to improve the quality of life for the residents of Japantown and the surrounding communities, and also for those who visit and work in Japantown. https://www.sfjacl.org/

• Greg Watanabe has appeared Off Broadway in Philip Kan Gotanda’s “The Ballad of Yachiyo” (The Public) and David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child” (Signature Theater). Regional credits include the world premiere productions of “The Summer Moon” (A Contemporary Theater), “The Happy Ones” (South Coast Repertory Theater; L.A. Drama Critics Circle nomination for Best Featured Performance) and “Extraordinary Chambers” (Geffen Playhouse; Ovation nomination for Best Featured Actor). Others favorites include Hwang’s “Yellow Face” (Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company; San Diego Theater Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding Lead Performance in a Play) and “No-No Boy” (adapted by Ken Narasaki). He can be seen in the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors’ comedy sketches on YouTube.

• Jeanne Sakata’s renowned solo play will be produced in the 2017-18 season at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, and the Sheen Center in New York City. Since its premiere a decade ago, the play has had numerous productions across the country with the Epic Theatre Ensemble, (2013 Drama Desk Nomination, Outstanding Solo Performance), Pasadena Playhouse, Guthrie Theater, Portland Center Stage, Seattle’s ACT Theatre, Perseverance Theatre, PlayMakers Repertory Company, New Century Theatre, Honolulu Theatre for Youth, Coachella Valley Repertory, and Plays and Players.

As an actor, Sakata has performed with the Public Theater, Kennedy Center, Mark Taper Forum, La Jolla Playhouse, South Coast Repertory, American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, People’s Light, Northlight Theatre, and the Intiman Theatre, among others. Recent TV and film credits include “Big Hero 6,” “Dr. Ken,” “True Fiction,” and the internationally acclaimed Sundance indie film “Advantageous.” Special honors: L.A. Ovation Award, Outstanding Lead Actress for Chay Yew’s “Red” at East West Players; Lee Melville Award for Outstanding Contribution to L.A. Theatre Community, Playwrights’ Arena; Outstanding Artist Award, Los Angeles’ Asian Pacific American Friends of Theatre. www.jeannesakata.com, www.holdthesetruths.info

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