Site moved to, redirecting in 1 second...

« REVIEW The Architecture of Becoming, by Kara Lee Corthron, Sarah Gaucher, Virginia Grise, Dipika Guha and Lauren Yee, directed by Elena Araoz, Lydia Fort and Lauren Keating, Women’s Project Theater at New York City Center Stage II | Main | REVIEW The Threepenny Opera, book and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, music by Kurt Weill, English adaptation by Mark Blitzstein, directed and choreographed by Martha Clarke, The Atlantic Theater »

March 18, 2014

REVIEW Fast Company by Carla Ching, directed by Robert Ross Parker, The Ensemble Studio Theatre & The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

IMG_0119 (2)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.

L-R Moses Villarama, Stephanie Hsu, Christopher Larkin, Mia Katigbak.  Photo: Ensemble Studio Theatre

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 grifter 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 plays at The Ensemble Studio Theatre on Manhattan's west side through April 6, 2014.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

*Two plays developed through this partnership reviewed here are Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler and Isaacs Eye by Lucas Hnath.  Click on live links of titles for reviews.

Comments are very welcome.  Scroll down, click on "comments, write in comment box and click on "post."  Emails are private and never appear with comments.



TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference REVIEW Fast Company by Carla Ching, directed by Robert Ross Parker, The Ensemble Studio Theatre & The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Your review captured the spirit of this delightful play. The repartee between the characters was really well done both from the point of view of script and the performance. I do have one question and that is, since in this carefully plotted play nothing has been put in by chance, I wonder what the real significance was of the specific comic book which was the object of all their desire?

Yes -- that Superman I comic ... by the way, I looked it up on ebay and it was available for a few $$$ ...guess that's not the real one they were after in the play!

There are different states - a good one runs to $2,800,000 - see

Hope you saved your old ones!

excuse me ... how many zeroes was that?????

Maybe I missed something. It's always possible that between the rapid-fire dialogue and my aging ears, I missed certain details that would have made the play make more sense to me. But I write on the assumption that I didn't miss those details.

“Fast Company” is amusing. But despite the idea that this is a family of con artists, the confidence game is pretty much absent from the play. Before the play begins, Blue and her brother H (and maybe one or two other non-family con artists—I don't remember) have obtained Action Comics No. 1, worth, according to the play, between $1 and $1.5 million. But exactly how did she get hold of the comic book? Through con artistry? Not likely. It seems unlikely the owner of the comic book handed it over to Blue or was “conned” out of it by her, which seems to me how a con artist would have obtained it. Maybe she conned her way into the owner's home, but the theft must have been a heist, as in, say, a movie like “Topkapi,” rather than a con, such as in a movie like “House of Games.” Okay. We'll let that pass. She's got the comic book and she has a mark to sell a counterfeit copy to—where did the counterfeit copy come from? Was it made from the original, and if so, how long did that take to do? But, okay, we'll let that pass. Then she's going to return the original to the owner before he finds out, except that her brother H has made off with it himself. But the owner has discovered the comic book is missing, and Blue (how does he know that Blue stole it?) is in trouble. This all takes place before the play begins.

In the play itself, the only “con” to speak of is the pretended torturing of H in the presence of Mabel. I'm not even sure Mable, as the matriarch and the most experienced and savvy con artist of the bunch, falls for that business because, after all, as we saw, she took the comic book from H, who then disappeared for parts unknown, and she lets her other children, Blue and Francis, believe that H still has it. But we learn that she's kept the comic book and sent her children on a wild goose chase for reasons that are maternal and familial: she's dying and she wanted (sentimentally) for her children to reassemble as a family. When Francis finally tracks down his brother H in South America, he doesn't con him into returning; he persuades him to come back with some good old physical violence. And if I remember correctly, he's been searching for H for about six months; that means that the vindictive comic book owner is apparently a very patient fellow or else Blue has managed to keep herself well hidden on the Brown University's campus. For me, the sense that Blue was in significant peril was never sustained. Maybe the presence of an outside character—i.e., one not from the family—and even a two-act structure (where Blue is in real danger at the end of the first act) would have helped.

As for the application of game theory—well, that's a clever idea, but in the end it doesn't make a lot of sense in the play: what does emerge is that game theorists have more to learn from con artists than the other way around.

Nonetheless, “Fast Company,” if not as funny as it seems to want to be, is a diverting piece of theater played with panache and well-paced staging.

But as I said, I may have missed something.

I'm not sure I could tell you what happened to the comic book ... and as I mentioned in my review I felt the "game theory" bit was just a paste-on. Most of all, I want to thank you for your analytical review. I've read it more than once and it's given me lot of food for thought, and I appreciate it! Yvonne

The comments to this entry are closed.