‘Joker’ shines bigger, brighter at Kumu Kahua
Joe is an immigrant from the Philippines who now calls Hawaii home. He helps his wife run a Chinese restaurant in downtown Honolulu and raise her son from a previous marriage, but their marriage is in trouble. His wife, Lin, would like Joe to drink less and make love more often; he has no interest in seeing a marriage counselor about either of those issues. Lin’s son, Ray, generally considers Joe to be “the best dad ever,” but his primary concern is an apparently unrequited interest in a rich girl at his high school who is, as Ray puts it, “out of my league.”
That’s where things stand when Frank, someone Joe knew in the Philippines and hasn’t seen in years, abruptly turns up at the restaurant. Frank knows Joe as Joker. Frank’s unanticipated arrival sends Joe’s already unsteady existence into crisis mode.
Welcome to Kumu Kahua’s season-opening production of Hawaii playwright Yilong Liu’s drama-comedy “Joker.” “Joker” premiered in December with a five-show run at the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Kumu Kahua’s production runs through Sept. 27 and
>> Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St. >> When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 27 >> Cost: $20 (discounts
available) >> Info: 536-4441 or
kumukahua.org makes Liu’s meticulously constructed, delightfully entertaining story available to the larger audience it deserves. Kumu Kahua veteran director Wil Kahele amps up the comic aspects of the story over the original lab theater production but doesn’t dilute its serious themes and pivotal poignant moments.
“Joker” takes place in 2013. It was a time when Hawaii law defined marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman. The campaign to redefine marriage as being between two people regardless of gender percolates through Liu’s play but is only one part of it.
To say more would spoil the plot twists, red herrings and consistent use of misdirection that makes “Joker” great entertainment for teens and adults alike.
Denise Aiko Chinen (Lin) and Jason Kanda (Joe) reprise their Lab Theatre performances in commanding style. Kanda is well known for his depth and versatility across a wide range of character types; his work here is one of the deepest and most demanding performances of his career.
Jim K. Aina (Frank) steals several scenes as Joker’s long-lost “friend.” Although Aina has played a wide range of characters for several Oahu theater groups in the past decade, portraying an over-the-top, stereotypical witty, flamboyantly gay man takes him into new ter- ritory. He makes that exploratory journey in superb style.
Randall Galius Jr. (Ray) is solid and convincing throughout. A scene where Joe tries to help his stepson become comfortable with “slow dancing” becomes a marvelous showcase for Galius’ skill as a comic actor.
Liu’s skillful use of foreshadowing becomes evident in retrospect as secrets are revealed. Other, equally logical conclusions about various characters turn out to be incorrect. Some nuances of the story might not come into focus until after the performance is over.
Jim Aina, left, stars as Frank, Jason Kanda as Joe, Denise Aiko Chinen as Lin and Randall Galius Jr. as Ray in “Joker” at Kumu Kahua.