A dazzling, but ultimately empty, play about a family of Asian-American grifters.
By Joel Benjamin
Fast Company by Carla Ching is a clever—perhaps, too clever—tale of yet another family of grifters, this time Asian American, although there are few overt references to their ethnicity. The bone of contention is an extremely rare and valuable comic book that Blue (Stephanie Hsu) has purloined as one of her cons. It appears that H (Moses Villarama) has stolen it out from under her and is going to sell it for his own enrichment. Blue drafts Francis (Christopher Larkin) to help her relieve H of the comic book. In the end Blue and Francis draft Mable (Mia Katigbak) to ensure that this con within a con will work.
It turns out, however, that Mable is the mother of H, Blue and Francis. She’s not exactly a mother of the year, though, but a mom with a tough love streak that led her to abandon each offspring, when they were little children, at various far-off spots in NYC, forcing them to use their own childish devices to make their way home. Even now she plots against her kids, double-crossing them with alacrity and total lack of conscience, all the while misleading Francis and Blue into believing H has further deceived them. After a while all the twists and turns, not to mention a tedious litany of criminal methodologies—Pig in a Poke, Stag Hunt, Game Theory, Brinkmanship, etc.—become tiresome, making the soppy ending all the more unconvincing.
The various plot twists and turns and devious back-stabbings are far too complicated to relate here. It is Ms. Ching’s ability to create interesting characters that gives Fast Company whatever interest it has. Francis is making his way as a David Blaine-like magician. When first seen, he is inside a freezer, preparing for an upcoming TV shoot. Blue is a tough cookie with a soft, injured psyche, always having to prove herself to win her mother’s love. H is the sweetheart of the bunch, that is, if you can believe his boyishly handsome façade. Mable is the monster mom with the heart of gold whose final request energizes the emotional fade-out. All four actors are fine, particularly Ms. Katigbak.
There’s no denying Ms. Ching’s cleverness and encyclopedic knowledge of what she calls “Con Artistry 101,” but keeping an audience constantly off balance is enervating theater. And, her wrap-up of all the plot twists is hard to believe.
The slick, neon accented set and clean lighting by Nick Francone was in line with the writing, as were Suzanne Chesney’s everyday costumes.
Robert Ross Parker’s direction emphasized speed over emotion which jibes with Ms. Ching’s intentions.
Fast Company – March 12 – April 6, 2014
Ensemble Studio Theatre
549 West 52nd St., 2nd floor (between 10th & 11th Aves.)
New York, NY
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or www.estnyc.org
Running Times: 1 hour 30 minutes, no intermission