Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: A Local Lens on Family and Homosexuality

Many times via the media we only see the broad scope on a topic. We see it from a global perspective. Rarely do we see the local perspective. With the landscape of LGBTQ equality drastically changing comes a story told from a smaller lens. In Joker, we see the effects of homosexuality on a family in Hawaii and a man of Filipino decent. Written by Yilong Liu, Joker follows Joe in his daily life working at his family's Chinese restaurant with his wife Lin and stepson Ray. When a visitor from Joe's past arrives, skeletons are dug up and perspectives on homosexuality are brought to light. The synopsis is exciting. The script brings so much promise. But when it comes to this production, Joker struggled severely, highlighting many issues. Whether it was Liu's intent or not, Joker presents stereotypes of gay men as sex hungry and hypocritical in regards of unity. Frank as a character may have served as a comic relief but his portrayal as boisterous and willing to out someone for his own benefit made him a villain. Toning down the caricature nature of Frank will present honesty to the story. As the piece goes on, we learn the nature of Joe and his relationship with the family. We learn that the phone calls are indeed voicemails, and not actual conversations, to someone of great importance. That reveal occurs late and way after the cringe worthy dance moment between stepdad and stepson. The connection is not one of romance but if longing for someone. Liu could benefit from discovering more moment between Joe and Ray.
Director Dan Dinero had such trouble assisting his company through this play. As Joe, Ariel Estrada didn’t quite connect on stage and stumbled through. Estrada didn’t play the stakes of the situation and allowed Ray Santos’ manipulative Frank to walk all over him. It was natural for Joe and Lin to not connect on a romantic level but Joe was brought into Lin’s world to protect her and Ray. Estrada and Shirley Huang played the estranged card very early into the play not allowing it to the naturally play out. Troy Iwata as Ray was the bright light of the production. Iwata made strong choices and gave an authentic performance.
If Joker were a roller coaster, the production would have looked like a big circle with no peaks, dips, or loops. The play was very slow moving. Dinero didn’t work with tempo and speeds so when earnest moments were warranted, it wasn’t deserved. Silences must be earned. And that was never truer then in the epilogue. Estrada and Huang lived in silences that were simply awkward. Where Dinero did succeed was utilizing the revolving door of the Kraine. Not only did he utilize it, he used what lived behind it. And it was a very brave and strong decision. The scenic and prop design by Andrew Diaz was quite good as well. It was clean and simple, allowing you to see beyond what was present.
There is so much potential in Joker. There could be a great future in it. But before that can happen, there is work to be done.