Joe (Jason Kanda) and Frank (Michael Donato) in Joker

Joe (Jason Kanda) and Frank (Michael Donato) in Joker. (photo credit: Chesley Cannon)

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Department of Theatre and Dance presents the world premiere of MFA candidate Yilong Liu’s play, Joker in the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre, December 3-7. The production will serve as Liu’s MFA thesis presentation.

Joker takes place in Honolulu just before the passing of the Marriage Equality Act last year. The story focuses on Joe (Jason Kanda), who manages a small Chinese restaurant with his wife Lin (Denise Aiko Chinen) and stepson Ray (Michael She). They live a quiet life, trying to raise Ray while keeping the restaurant afloat.

This tenuous calm is rocked by the arrival of Frank (Michael “Donut” Donato), a former friend of Joe’s and reporter from the Philippines who’s been assigned to cover marriage equality in Hawaiʻi. Frank knows that Joe has been keeping a secret from his family that could ruin the life that he’s created and Frank is willing to expose that secret on the eve of the gay community’s victory. But Frank does not know the full extent of Joe’s deceit or the reason why he’s living a lie.

“Hawaiʻi is the closest that marriage equality has come to Asia,” says Liu. “In many parts of that region, there’s very little discussion regarding LGBT rights or marriage equality. My hope is that this play might raise awareness and start some conversations.”

More on Liu

Before attending UH Mānoa, Liu was an established writer in the Chinese film and television industries, working with Sichuan Radio and Television and writing an award-winning screenplay, The Illusion Wanderer. Liu chose to pursue his MFA in Honolulu because he was fascinated by the diversity that America and Hawaiʻi, in particular, offer. While at UH Mānoa, he has focused on stories featuring Asian-American and LGBT communities. Joker is Liu’s first full-length play produced in English.

Director Matthew Kelty

Director Matthew Kelty, an MA candidate in Asian theater, first became attached to the project when Liu asked him to do a workshop reading of the play. “I fell in love with the subtle way Yilong deals with some very complex issues,” he says.

Kelty brings a playwright’s eye to this original work—he studied playwriting with Romulus Linney in New York, where he also directed and acted Off-Broadway. He has appeared several times on the Earle Ernst stage, in productions such as Handler and Very still and hard to see.

Joker will be the first production that he has directed in Honolulu.

Performance dates and ticket information

Performances will take place December 3, 4, 5 and 6 at 8 p.m., and December 7 at 2 p.m. A free post-show chat will be held with the cast, playwright and director on Friday, December 5.

Tickets are available online at, by phone at (808) 944-2697 at participating outlets and at the Kennedy Theatre box office. Tho box office is open Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m.–1 p.m. with extended hours on performance dates.

Ticket prices

  • $18 general admission
  • $16 for seniors/military/UH faculty and staff
  • $13 for students
  • $8 for UH Mānoa students with a valid 2014 UH Mānoa ID

Ticket prices include all service fees. For further information, visit the Kennedy Theatre website or call the theatre at (808) 956-7655. For disability access, please call the theatre.

A UH Mānoa Kennedy Theatre news release

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