“The Joy Luck Club,” now playing at Manoa Valley Theatre, resonates with island audiences because it deals with relatable cultural issues. If you’re Asian, you know the power of familial values and traditions, explored in this play.
Based on the novel by Amy Tan, and scripted by Susan Kim for the stage, the dramady involes four Chinese women who migrate to the U.S. and their four American-born daughters.
It was adapted in 1993 for a movie that featured a widely Asian American cast, a rarity of that period, and that casting concept makes the MVT effort one with a mostly Asian American cast, too.
Set in San Francisco’s fabled Chinatown, the thrust of the play involves memories and reflections of the four-family ensembles. There’s a number of adoring laughs but core is the bond of the traditions not to be forgotten in a family.
Like mahjong tiles that click and clack, there’s a lot of chatter and patter and a yin and yang volley of dichotomous benchmarks : mothers and daughters, sadness and gladness, achievements and disappointments, praise and criticism, doubt and confidence and secrets and confessions flow like hot tea.
For director Reiko Ho, the challenge is to pace the shifting tides of highs and lows, and she utilizes the cramped and smallish MVT staging on multi-platforms and stairways to good advantage, again with dichotomous exits and entrances, from MVT’s doorways on the left and right.
For the spectator, the lack of a printed playbill provides some frustration in identifying characters and actors. You could download a 38-page online version, if you can find it (I believe you need to purchase tickets to get access, or you’ll be unable to peek at the contents). But at a performance, an usher may ask if you want to download the QR code onto your cellphone. But try to access that during the show? No can do; you’re supposed to put your phone on airline mode. Further, the light from your phone will be a major disruption, since all devices must be turned off — house rules. To peruse, you have to wait till intermission, or simply review it at home later. But I digress. I firmly believe, with normalcy returning, theaters should commit to provide a playbill, not just for spectators, but as a measure of gratitude and respect to the cast and crew, a validation of the entire team effort.
The narrator Jing-Mei Woo (Jennifer Stierli) assembles with her three aunties — who were mahjong players with her late mother Suyuan Woo (Rebekah Fu) – for a reunion. The pack includes a mixture of personalities: Lindo Jong (Kat Nakano), An-Mei Hsu (Denise-Aiko Chinen), and Ying-Ying St. Clair (Lisa Ann Katagiri Bright).
The other daughters are Rose Hsu Jordan (Alana Eagle), Waverly Jong (Lacey Chu) and Lena St. Clair (Miki Yamamoto).
What a chop suey lot, these women. American-born daughters, of course, dodge off the conflicts with their native Chinese moms, who can’t understand why they don’t conform to the standards of the older generation. So there are generational friction and wounds.
The men are afterthoughts, with little to do. Canning Woo (Dann Seki) is the patriarch who has a few good lines, and Tin Jong (Devin Nekoba) might best remembered for his feigned but credible hunched trots across the stage .
The production runs Thursdays through Sundays, through Dec. 12. Visit www.manoavalleytheatre.com