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Theater Review (NYC): ‘Fast Company’ by Carla Ching

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Carla Ching, a gifted dramatic wordsmith, has tightened up her style since her early effort TBA. Her latest play is Fast Company, a crackling one-act about a family of Asian-American con artists, directed by Robert Ross Parker, best known for his work on numerous Vampire Cowboys productions. Though this is a much more compact work than those wild comic-book adventures, it shares some of their electric energy, kept sizzling by a fine cast of four.

(L to R) Stephanie Hsu, Mia Katigbak and Chris Larkin in 'Fast Company' - Photo by Gerry Goodstein

(L to R) Stephanie Hsu, Mia Katigbak and Chris Larkin in ‘Fast Company’ – Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Talk about tiger moms. Mable (that’s how it’s spelled), played with compressed emotional focus by Mia Katigbak, is what one mother-in-law I know would call “a real piece of work.” Rather than pushing her kids to excel in academics or musicianship or any of the usual stuff, she’s done her best to raise hers into skilled con artists just like Mom, in part by subjecting them to “tests” of startling cruelty.

Her two sons, anyway. Daughter Blue was considered not to have the gift for grift. But it’s Blue’s attempt to organize the biggest con the family has ever known that touches off the story. The gifted Stephanie Hsu’s masterful portrayal of this overlooked sibling makes Blue’s character the fulcrum of the first half of the play.

In keeping with the outrageousness both Ching and Parker seem drawn to, brother Francis (a nimble Christopher Larkin) is trying to shake off mom’s criminal shell for a new career as a David Blaine-style stunt magician. His is one of the more unusual entrances you’re likely to see. Blue seeks his help when something goes terribly wrong with her con. Their other brother, H (Moses Villarama), has made off alone with the million-dollar comic book they’ve pilfered so he can pay off a huge debt to a gangster, depriving Blue and the rest of her crew of their proceeds and, even more important, breaking the code of the con artist crew. As Blue applies game theory and its psychology in pursuit of the treasure, the ensuing events twist con artistry and family dynamics together with surprising – and then again, not-so-surprising – results. It’s a truly original story, tightly told with humor, pathos, and some distressing violence (though in the world of con artistry, of course things are not always as they seem).

Fast Company is perfectly titled, with quick action and characters who talk fast as they run their “company.” There are a few more “rock and a hard place” cliches in the dialogue than I’d prefer, but on the whole the script knits up family emotions and con-game tension into a satisfyingly shiny piece of fabric. Video screens and chapter titles and thumping music and fast set changes reinforce the sense that these people are constantly on the edge of something and on the run from something. They may try to drop out of the game – Francis with meditation-oriented stunts, H with an escape to the tropics – but in the end, it may be only family cohesion – or at least forgiveness – that can pull them back from the brink.

Through April 6 at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street. For tickets call 866-811-4111 or visit OvationTix.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.