Be thankful Mable Kwan isn’t your mother; she takes the definition of Tiger Mom to a whole new level. Mabel is the matriarch of a con artist dynasty in Carla Ching’s new play, Fast Company.
To toughen up her three kids, Mabel left each one far from home with instructions to find their way back. It was the beginning of their training to become expert grifters. But now Blue, the daughter, has plans to ramp up the family business by devising cons around game theory.
The con Blue puts together is dizzying in its complexity. We join it half way through when the plan has apparently gone horribly wrong. A million dollar comic book Blue stole, has been stolen in turn by her brother H. As the play opens, she is begging her other brother Francis to help her get it back. By the way, he’s sitting in a deep freeze when we first see him. Blue is played with charm and cheek by Stephanie Hsu while Christopher Larkin is taut and threatening as Francis – he also does some impressive push ups and magic tricks. Moses Villarama, as the third sibling H, imbues his part with the desperation of a lovable black sheep. All three set out to double and triple cross each other as the action unfolds in a series of rapid-fire scenes announced on two large screens on each side of the stage.
But despite Blue’s economics degree and use of game theory, her mother gets the better of her with good old-fashioned deception. Played with sly wit and steely intensity by Mia Katigbak, Mabel is the glue that binds the three kids. While this play purports to be a dramatization of game theory, it is as much about sibling rivalry and dysfunctional family dynamics as the mathematics of decision-making. But you can’t ignore the science. In fact one finds oneself wondering which idea came first – the family of grifters or the exploration of game theory as this play is part of a project sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in partnership with the Ensemble Studio Theatre to develop plays about science, technology and economics.
It’s definitely a worthwhile goal and Fast Company is a funny take on a complicated concept. But as each new twist in the con is revealed, Blue rather heavy-handedly shoehorns her explanation of game theory into the dialogue – dialogue which, incidentaly, is perhaps over-reliant on the f-bomb for both emphasis and humor.
The plot, including an unexpectedly gruesome torture scene is more than gripping enough. Blue’s modern modus operandi finally pays off and the family comes together for their next heist. It’s refreshing to see an entirely Asian cast on a New York Stage and in a play where their ethnicity isn’t strictly relevant. This happens to be part of a season long partnership with the Asian American theatre company Ma-Yi. Fast Company is science served as a madcap, breakneck caper – and it’s all the more intriguing as a result.