Honesty Is Not the Family Policy
‘Fast Company,’ Carla Ching’s Tale of Grift
by Alexis Soloski, March 25, 2014 (To see full article, click here)
Carla Ching’s “Fast Company,” at the Ensemble Studio Theater, offers a crafty take on the dysfunctional-family tale. The Kwan siblings manipulate, deceive and forsake one another. But it’s all for the good of the family business. That business? Con artistry.
Hard-working, intelligent, and ambitious, Blue (Stephanie Hsu) is the Asian-American clan’s black sheep. Years ago, her stepmother, Mable (Mia Katigbak), announced that Blue would never make it as a grifter. Undaunted, Blue runs scams on the sly even as she works toward her undergraduate degree, confident that course work in game theory will help her achieve bigger and better scores. But when a con involving a million-dollar comic book goes calamitously wrong, she must call on her stepbrother, Francis, and Mable to keep the cops at bay.
Ms. Ching has a great gift for dreaming up elaborate plots, though rather less success in unspooling them. There are crosses, double-crosses and schemes devious enough to impress the most jaded flimflammer. But just when a scene gets going, cheap-insult slinging or dry exposition stops it cold again.
The theater commissioned “Fast Company” with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which underwrites projects meant to improve the public understanding of science. Ms. Ching seems determined to give the foundation its money’s worth, pausing to explain every aspect of game theory that the play exploits. In the midst of charged dialogue, characters pause to define “brinkmanship” or “credibility of threat,” as if footnoting the conversation. Urgency is eroded.
The director, Robert Ross Parker, tries to hurry things along. A veteran of Vampire Cowboys’ intensely kinetic theater, Mr. Parker favors broad, energetic strokes, which keep the pacing swift but sometimes threaten to push the characters toward caricature. And that’s a shame, because the play provides rich roles for its actors. Ms. Hsu is gutsy and adorable, and Christopher Larkin does fine work as her stepbrother, who traded long cons for a different kind of hustle: David Blaine-esque endurance stunts.
The expert Ms. Katigbak takes obvious delight in the devious, whiskey-swilling Mable, the kind of woman who, as Blue explains, disavowed Santa Claus “so she wouldn’t have to buy Christmas presents anymore.”
You can hardly blame Mable. In the world of “Fast Company,” as one character remarks: “A grifter’s always grifting. And a gambler’s always gambling.” To show tenderness is to admit weakness. If you’re not the shark, you’re the chump, maybe even the chum.
Yet Ms. Ching reveals the real affection that these characters feel for one another, even as they lie, cheat and steal with skill and avidity. Here, the family that cons together, belongs together.
“Fast Company” continues through April 6 at the Ensemble Studio Theater, 549 West 52nd Street, Clinton; 866-811-4111, ensemblestudiotheatre.org.
A version of this review appears in print on March 26, 2014, on page C7 of the New York edition with the headline: Honesty Is Not the Family Policy. Order Reprints|Today's Paper|Subscribe
Let's Talk Off-Broadway - See full review here
by Yvonne Korshak
FAST COMPANY is a fast moving, funny and suspenseful comedy about an Asian-American family of grifters, the Kwan’s, who’ll con anyone -- best of all one another -- to get what they want.
Blue, the girl of the family, using, she says, probabilities based on her college study of game theory, manages to swipe a copy of Action Comics #1, the first Superman comic book (worth over a million dollars, the world’s most valuable comic book) but she loses it! To get it back, she has to turn for help to her brothers who’ve never thought much of her grafter skills. This sets up a round-robin of conning with her brothers, Francis, who’s retired from pick-pocketing to become a TV magician, and H, a crooked gambler, until, in their need, they turn to that legendary con great, Mabel -- their mother.
As con artists, they base their moves on calculations of what their targets expect and don’t expect. What makes this play so delightfully funny is the playwright's canny sense of what the audience can and can't anticipate -- the playwright’s the best con artist of all: she knows what we will and won’t figure out, and that, as the play continues and we catch on, we’ll get smarter -- so she ups the ante. FAST COMPANY is a voyage through cleverness: the Kwans outwit one another and the playwright outwits us -- to the very end where she shifts gears to give an unexpected ending that enriches the meaning of her play.
Stephanie Hsu as Blue let’s us catch on through her facial expressions and body language that there’s some kind of special, i.e. family, intimacy, between herself and her brother Francis even before we know who’s who, and Francis -- with help from the playwright -- takes “cool” to new lengths. Moses Villarama is touchingly conflicted as H, and Mable, as played by Mia Katigbak, with her outstanding deadpan, is tops in the script and in the play.
As for “game theory” … well, the concept may have given a scientific whiff that would involve the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation which has partnered with the Ensemble Studio Theatre to develop plays about science, technology and economics … but crooks were crooks before there was game theory.
FAST COMPANY playsat The Ensemble Studio Theatre on Manhattan's west side through April 6, 2014. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
Times Square Chronical - See Full Review Here
Fast Company at the Ensemble Studio Theatre is the Family Hustle
What do you do when your brother rips you off? What if it is in the midst of a $1.5 million heist? In Carla Ching’s Fast Company, Blue
(Stephanie Hsu) has always wanted to be a grifter, but her mother shut her out of the game, so Blue has enrolled in Brown to study “Game Theory.” However on her first con she loses the mark to her brother, H.
Born into a family of con artists, the one code of ethics is you do not “break code.” To get help, Blue goes to her brother, Francis (Chris Larkin) who has retired from the game to become a Las Vegas magician. Francis insists they call in their psychopathic mother, Mable (Mia Katigbak) who has schooled them all to trust no-one and is the biggest hustler of them all. Together they set up a con to bring H (Moses Villarama) back and get back the stolen copy of Action Comics No. 1, where Superman first appeared, which goes for $1.5 million. The plan was to switch it for a counterfeit copy, return the original leaving the owner none the wiser. H is a compulsive gambler who betrayed his sister in order to save his life. Confronted by the mother, H gives up the comic book as she takes up the betrayal and the con continues.
This game gets twisted, while being turned into a Mad Hatter’s tea party of misdirections. The audience laughs and thrills to this carnival ride of manipulation and greed, spinning rapidly to its effervescent conclusion of how families exploit vulnerabilities for
their own selfish motives.
Director, Robert Ross Parker keeps this show moving like a crisp anime action flick. This ensemble of Asian actors is charismatic, likable and believable in a comic book kind of way. If you liked American Hustle, or the TV show Leverage you will love Fast Company.
Fast Company: Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street, through April 6th