As economic pressure squeezes the middle class and the money supply tightens like a cat’s behind, the lure of grifting to make an easy buck looms brighter than a college education. But what happens when your grift turns sour and you need a bailout from your family who are the kings and queens of the grift? Blue learns the hard way not to mess with the best, especially when they are family who can’t resist cheating on the score.
Fast Company, a clever, quick-paced comedy about an Asian American family of scam artists who connive with each other in search of a lost million-dollar comic book is having its New York premiere at Ensemble Studio Theatre until April 6. Robert Ross Parker, of the Obie-winning troupe Vampire Cowboys, directs the actors insuring the action is crisp and the scene changes pop with dizzying alacrity. A useful guide in the program to the grifting terms and cons is reminiscent of The Sting in forewarning the audience what to watch for. And as with the film, the audience is chopped short when they least expect it. Each reveal results in a “gotcha,” making the evening one of fun and easy laughter.
Blue (Stephanie Hsu) is in deep trouble. Excluded from the family crime business because her super-scammer mom didn’t think she was tough enough, Blue takes on the challenge of stealing Action Comics #1, the debut of Superman, the most pricey comic book of all time. The problem is not her theft, which used advanced math principles and was brilliant. The problem is that she lost the comic in a doublecross and now her life is at risk to the head of a Chinese criminal syndicate if she’s found out. It’s a race against time to bring in the comic book. But where is it, who has it and how will she be able to get whoever has it to give it back to her?
Blue goes to the one person who has ethics and maybe cares enough about her to help, her brother Francis (Chris Larkin). Once a savvy pickpocket, Chris has thrown it all away to become a magician. Initially he refuses to become involved; he tells her he’s out of the game. It is then she evokes the past and recalls memories of their previous bonds as children when they dealt with their near malevolent mom Mable Kwan (Mia Katigbak). To hone their survival instincts Mable enacted cruel tests of their courage and ingenuity. Chris passed with flying colors; Blue didn’t make the grade. Pitying his sister’s ill treatment by their mom who obviously favored him over her, Francis eventually succumbs to Blue’s manipulations and the game theory she’s learned in college.
Together, Francis and Blue embark on solving the mystery of who has the comic book and how to get it back. Employing Blue’s techniques, they manage to find it, but then other doublecrosses occur and the entire family becomes involved. Mom Mable and H (Moses Villarama), their brother who’s a gambler on the lam, are talented enough to play the “Inside Man” and “Roper” roles. Blue and Francis are convinced that by packing such family grifting brilliance together they will seamlessly straighten out the mess Blue fell into.
However, the mess, like every complicated problem, worsens. It appears that the seamless recovery of the comic book will be nearly impossible and where only Blue’s life was at risk, now the entire family is facing potential violence. It just might be that Blue, Francis, Mama and H. will suffer at the hands of the syndicate leader who will turn them over to the “dentist” or worse.
Ching has created an entertaining experience and the actors appear to be enjoying themselves as they revel in the games of trickery and front each other. Though the plot is a bit contrived and in some sections its development is a tad obvious, the light-hearted work delivers its comedy and the obvious is readily overlooked because the production is well executed and funny. Ching’s dialogue, the actors’ skill and enjoyment, and the director’s snappy pace serve the playwright’s interesting take on this con artist family, whom, we discover, may care about one another after all.