The family that cons together stays together? Well, not necessarily. What happens when they attempt to pull the grift on one another?
That's the big question raised by Carla Ching's "Fast Company," a new dramatic comedy currently being showcased in its world premiere at South Coast Repertory. Its performers are fast movers, and they demand the same quick-on-the-uptake quality of its audience if their actions and motives are to be fully understood.
The cast is composed of four members of a Chinese family, three of whom also are known by their first initials. They're con artists, grifters, and together they comprise "fast company" — experts in their field and capable of swindling the most difficult "mark."
Under the swift, sleight-of-hand direction of Bart DeLorenzo, these confidence men and women expend their illicit efforts in the search for what Alfred Hitchcock would have called "the MacGuffin" — in this case, a rare first issue of Action Comics, introducing Superman, circa 1938, and the most valuable comic book on the market. Two years ago, one sold for more than $2 million.
Possession of this piece of pulp fiction could mean a good chunk of "disappear money" for one of the conners, but when the stakes get that high, will one of them "break the code," that is, rat on a family member? Time will tell.
At South Coast Rep, DeLorenzo's performers — acting as a mother, two sons and a daughter — cross intellectual swords time and again in their quest for the big score. At the end, you're not sure who's worth rooting for, if any of them.
The daughter Blue, "B" for short, actually Belinda, played by Jackie Chung, is the most impressive of the lot. Chung's character is street smart, knows the con game inside and out, and yet draws a measure of empathy absent in the other three. If any audience sentiment is elicited, it probably comes her way.
Brother Henry, known as "H" and played by Nelson Lee, has more at stake than the rest. He's into some dangerous gamblers for a very large sum. Lee conveys an unsettling aura of menace owing to his desperation, drawing an extra measure of distrust.
The other brother, Francis (Lawrence Kao), is closer to the sister and offers what assistance he can, albeit for a price. He's also an accomplished magician and escape artist, talents he exhibits during the course of the action.
Mother Mable, also called "M," is the brains and possesses the ultimate savvy of the four. She taught her kids the art of urban survival by dumping them on a New York street and telling them to find her way home. Emily Kuroda interprets this rough-edged character with a steely calm and bulletproof determination.
All four are very nearly upstaged by Keith Mitchell's ultra-modern scenic design, with settings and backgrounds whizzing on and off stage and screened titles (as in "The Sting") preceding each segment, in conjunction with Tom Ontiveros' brilliant lighting effects. Rapidity is the keynote here, perhaps too much for complete audience involvement.
"Fast Company" is just that, a larcenous foursome matching wits at warp speed in a potentially deadly game for the highest of stakes. It's an impressive, if unsettling, world premiere at South Coast Repertory.
Orange Coast College's Student Repertory Theatre is presenting a bounty of extra-short plays in its annual "10 or Less Festival" this weekend only. Several vignettes are written by students, while others are penned by known playwrights. All are directed by students.
Performances will be 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday in the Drama Lab Studio Theatre. Tickets are $5 in advance (call 714-432-5880) and $7 at the door.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "Fast Company"
Where: South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:45 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees until Oct. 27 (no evening show on the final day)
Cost: Tickets start at $22
Information: (714) 708-5555 or http://www.scr.org