‘Joker’ shines big­ger, brighter at Kumu Kahua

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - TODAY - Re­view by John Berger jberger@starad­ver­tiser.com

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

‘JOKER’

>> 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.

COUR­TESY KUMU KAHUA

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.

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