Thursday, November 21, 2019

Theater Mu's Fast Company is a Fun Ride

Dare to keep up with this witty new con caper. 

Photo courtesy of Theater Mu

As we roll into holiday season, the typical reason for the season spiel, while appropriate, can start to get really tired.

Photo by Rich Ryan

I mean I'll readily admit that I'm a Grinch, but be honest: don't you get a little tired of seeing the same kinds of stories this time of year?

Photo by Rich Ryan

If you're anything like me, eschew Christmas this and holiday that and enjoy a show like Theater Mu's Fast Company, a witty new comic-mystery, instead. This story focuses on a family of con-men and miscreants who are so devious that they even betray each other. Blue tries to pull off the heist of a lifetime: swindling a collector out of a rare $1.5 million first edition comic book. It seems ready to go off without a hitch; that is, until her brother H steals it right from under her nose. It turns out that H is in deep gambling debt with a gangster named Jimmy, but unfortunately his theft not only breaks the con-man code but endangers his sister's life as much as his own. Blue turns to her other brother Francis and mother Mable to find a way to con the comic out of H's hands. Her idea, which utilizes game theory, is air tight - except someone else gets it before she can get to H. The rest of the play involves the family tracking each other around the world and immersing into increasingly complex cons to gain equal footing, until a final explosive reveal ends their competition once and for all.

Photo by Rich Ryan

It's not quite what I was expecting but I really enjoyed the wry nature of this story. It's an edgier and more profane play than I'm used to seeing Theater Mu perform, but it was one of the most genuine group performances I've seen them do in a while. The cast all had great chemistry, and if this is any sign of the future from new Artistic Director Lily Tung Crystal I'm really excited about what's ahead. Jeannie Lander has a subtly devious energy as Mable that reminded me of the sly way Michelle Yeoh is playing the evil captain on the new Star Trek: Discovery series, which is to say: I loved her. Ming Montgomery stumbled on a couple of lines but I really liked her overall as Blue. She has a very genuine delivery that made this crazy story believable. Brian Kim was cool as a cucumber as the criminally talented Francis and his energy really drove the show. Rounding out the cast was Eric 'Pogi' Sumangil as the problematic H, who I've had the privilege of seeing in several shows. This might be my favorite performance of his to-date, as he brings a delightful comedic twist to his otherwise troubled character and really lets his warm charisma shine through.

Photo by Rich Ryan

Joel Sass's set echoes the comic book theme of this theatrical caper, and it mostly succeeds. I wish the projections, designed by Miko Simmons, were just a little bit brighter to really bring the theme home; as it is, they feel a bit washed out and don't have the full comic dynamism that could have lent this a Marvel edge. Ash Kaun's costumes are pretty straightforward and each character feels modern and comfortable. There wasn't much special about Karin Olson's lighting design or Montana Johnson's sound design, but everything seemed to run well. Overall, I have to extend a hearty bravo to director Brian Balcom, who has directed several other shows locally and in Chicago but I have somehow missed until now. He coaxed dynamic performances out of this cast and I hope to see his talented hand guiding future #tctheater shows.

Photo by Rich Ryan

Fast Company's closing is quickly approaching, so you have to book it quickly if you want to catch it before the last performance on November 24. For what it's worth, I think you should go. It should be no surprise to long-time readers that Theater Mu has consistently been a local highlight for me, and I'll admit that I was more than a little concerned about their future around this time last year. The company is still early under Lily Tung Crystal's fledgling leadership, but I'm really impressed with what I've seen so far and excited for what's ahead. Fast Company has all the elements I like in plays: it's modern, comedic, includes a mystery and is very approachable for a wide audience. It's a breath of fresh air from heavier dramatic and seasonal fare at this time of year and a great option for a quick pre-Thanksgiving date night. Click here to get your tickets before this little gem of a play is gone.

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