Review: ‘Joker’ superb at Kumu Kahua

Aug. 28, 2015 | 0 Comments
Jim K. Aina, left, Jason Kanda, Denise Aiko Chinen and Randall Galius Jr., star in Kumu Kahua's superb production of "Joker." Photo courtesy Kumu Kahua

COURTESY KUMU KAHUA THEATRE

Jim K. Aina (Frank), left, Jason Kanda (Joe), Denise Aiko Chinen (Lin)  and Randall Galius Jr. (Ray), star in Kumu Kahua’s superb season-opener production of “Joker.”

BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

Born and raised in the Philippines, Joe now calls Hawaii home. He helps his wife run a Chinese restaurant in downtown Honolulu and raise her son from a previous marriage, but the 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 counsellor about either of those issues.

‘JOKER’

Presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre

» Where: 46 Merchant St.
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 27
» Cost: $20 (discounts available)
» Info: (808) 536-4441, www.kumukahua.org

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-resident playwright Yilong Liu’s drama/comedy “Joker.” “Joker” premiered in December 2014 with a five-show run in the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre at UH-Manoa. Kumu Kahua’s production runs through Sept 27 and 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 UH 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, and thereby denied marriage equality to gays, lesbians and polygamists. The campaign to redefine marriage as being between two people regardless of physical 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 Theater 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 playing an over-the-top, stereotypical witty, flamboyantly gay man takes him into new territory. He makes that exploratory journey in superb style.

Randall Galius, Jr. (Ray), the other first-timer, is solid and convincing throughout. A scene where Joe tries to help his step-son become comfortable with “slow dancing” becomes a marvelous showcase for Galius’s 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 may not come into focus until after the performance is over.

“Joker,” by Yilong Liu, developed by Matthew Kelty; directed by Wil Kahele; set and lighting design by Shawn Forsythe; costumes by Jonathan Reyn; sound by Stu Hirayama. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. With Jim K. Aina (Frank), Denise Aiko Chinen (Lin), Randall Galius, Jr. (Ray) and Jason Kanda (Joe)
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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