Lyric's "Fast Company": Comic Con

Tyler Simahk, Theresa Nguyen. Michael Hisamoto & Lin-Ann Ching Kocar in "Fast Company"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

Did you hear about the con game now being conducted by a bunch of immoral opportunists? No, it's not anyone's presidential campaign. It's the comedy being presented by Lyric Stage Company, “Fast Company” by Carla Ching. As the playwright has noted, this play about greed and gullibility was first produced in 2011, and has been revised several times, with this iteration being its fourth production. The current version relies heavily on the concept of game theory. The story, told in numerous blackouts, centers around a family of four con artists, grifters all, involved in the theft of an extremely valuable comic book.

The family consists of the matriarchal Mable (Lin-Ann Ching Kocar), her daughter and game theorist Blue (Theresa Nguyen), her “retired” pickpocket son Francis (Tyler Simahk) , who's become a television magician, and her gambler son H (Michael Hisamoto). Each in her or his own way fulfills the definition of a grifter, that is, one who “obtains goods or money illegally by the use of skills rather than violence” from a mark who is the intended victim, also known as a sucker or patsy. Their scheme includes an “inside man”who pulls off the actual con once the trust of the “mark” has been earned, the “lure” who typically pretends to be something she or he is not, in order to entice the mark, the “roper” or “outside man” who attains the trust of the mark before the con is pulled off, and the “fixer” who's the overall coordinator for the con, who networks resources and backup plans. The cons they have pulled include those with quite colorful names: “Pig-in-a-poke”, involving the sale of a presumably prized thing (a pig) rolled into a bag (“poke”) but in reality worthless; “The Spanish Prisoner” about bailing out a wealthy relative from a remote jail (not unlike much of today's email spam), and “The Badger Game” where a mark is lured into a compromising position, then blackmailed. There is honor of a sort among these thieves, with the first rule being to “have no feelings”, and “never break code”.

In a fast-paced ninety minutes without intermission, a lot of turf is covered, though with some rather unexplored underlying questions, such as Director M. Bevin O'Gara's query “if trust exists within a family, does that make it easier or harder to hustle each other?” and the rationale for a “world of misdirection, sleight of hand, where limits are not limits and you never trust anyone”. And as the playwright herself has asked, “why was my mom so hard when I was growing up?”, and the “how and why people screw over the people they love most”. The actors were up to the task, especially the maternal Kocar, and the direction was brisk. The family happens to be Asian American, which poses another thought: if this work had been written by an occidental playwright, would it be perceived as prejudicial toward Asian Americans? It's quite definitely cynical, as Bevin further admonishes the audience to “stay in your game...you could be duped at any time”, up to and including its surprise ending. All is, at the end of the play, illusion. Helping establish that is the creative team, which includes Scenic Designer Cameron Anderson, Costume Designer Tyler Kinney, Lighting Designer Annie Wiegand, Sound and Original Music Composer Arshan Gailus, Projection Designer Garrett Herzig and Magic Consultant Evan Northrup.

If you come from a relatively functional family, this probably won't be your “poke”. But if stings and capers (or the science and math behind them) are your thing, then do be lured to the Lyric Stage Company. “Fast Company” is the grift that keeps on giving.

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