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The Joy Luck Club

Amy Tan’s cross-cultural epic about mothers and daughters takes to the stage.


Photo: Mark Arbeit


It was an unlikely hit: a novel by a first-time author that blended the immigrant experience, intergenerational misunderstanding, tragic suffering, talking story, great Chinese food, and “The Double Attack from the East and West Shores.” In 1989, fiction about immigrant minorities in America was a niche market; Amy Tan’s spellbinding The Joy Luck Club changed all that, confounding expectation and claiming a spot on The New York Times bestseller list for 75 weeks. Since its publication, The Joy Luck Club has sold more than 2 million copies—not bad for a book about eight Chinese women in a mah-jong club.

A hit movie was made. A stage version, by playwright Susan Kim, debuted in metropolitan areas across the country. In Honolulu, the play was directed by a talented young woman named Reiko Ho, opening in 1999 to rapturous reviews.

This month, Ho (who is now the owner of a martial arts studio, the holder of a master’s degree in theater and the educational director for ‘Ohia Productions, a youth theater program) returns to direct the The Joy Luck Club for Diamond Head Theatre.

 “I’m very glad to be doing it again,” says Ho, “because over the last 10 years, I became a mother. I’m excited to bring that new level of perception to the play.”

What does that mean? Ho laughs. “When I first directed it, I related more to the daughters. I loved Jing-Mei,” the young main character. “I thought she was me, in her struggle to find herself and define herself against her mother. Now I’m relating to the moms more—what they overcame to get their daughters to America, their loss and grief and unconditional love.”

Ho plans to use a minimal set, inspired by Chinese stage tradition. “In Beijing opera, there’s very little onstage,” she explains. “They don’t need anything onstage to make you see mountains; they do it with acting.”

The Joy Luck Club may be “a women’s play,” says Ho, but its appeal is universal: “You have to look back into the past to move forward sometimes. That’s what the play is all about—taking this journey into the past and then seeing how that can move you forward.”

The Joy Luck Club will be playing at the Diamond Head Theatre Jan. 29 to Feb 14.  For tickets and information, visit diamondheadtheatre.com or call 733-0274.


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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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