What is money, really? You may think you know the answer, and you could probably produce a few bills as proof. But physical currency is on its way out, like the printing presses that produce it. Money today is an ephemeral thing, as invisible as radiation, digits shuffled and wired in the cloud.
Yet even as an imperceptible pattern of ones and zeroes, money still rules everything. In the race for the White House, the Koch brothers will ultimately invest nearly $1 billion to elect the puppet(s) of their choice, and presidential candidates will continue to deliver earnest stump speeches about getting money out of politics while accepting the filthy e-lucre of their corporate masters. That cash will be conveniently delivered through the magic of cyberspace, so nobody's dirty hand touches anybody else's.
Writer and director Theo Reyna's Lazy Fair, which is enjoying its world premiere at Mad Cat Theatre Company, is an old-fashioned heist-gone-awry story — but, it's set in a 21st-century environment where income inequality grows like an undiagnosed tumor and actual currency is an afterthought.
It opens in a vaguely dungeonesque space designed by Paul Tei. A narrow door from the Middle Ages leads to an earthen living room framed by smooth stones and jars of sand. A covered wicker chair and a black footstool are the only seating options, and in dim lighting, it could be a spartan showroom in the Riyadh IKEA.
Two old friends converse, their costumes (also by Tei) as implacable as the milieu. Rip (Ken Clement), the resident of this strange room, is liturgically overdressed in black with Middle Eastern filigree, like an Arab sultan mixed with a Williamsburg Jew. Otto (Andy Quiroga), clad in camo and a flak jacket, has accepted Rip's invitation for an uneasy chat.
Ten years ago, they and a colleague, Sandra (Meredith Bartmon), attempted an act of Robin Hood terrorism. The shrapnel, both physical and mental, still impacts them today. It's their first time meeting since the incident, and Rip wants to know if Otto and Sandra are still cool. Rip, we soon learn, did something to betray his companions, but Otto's faulty memory of the day in question fogs the already elusive conversation.
Reyna flashes back to the incident a decade earlier, the three colleagues crouched in a horizontal formation in even dimmer lighting. Rip clutches a grenade planned for the door behind them, which reportedly houses the wealth of the moneyed class. Otto expresses last-minute misgivings about the act, while the curdled sounds of gunshots and thumping corpses pound on the roof above them; kudos to sound designer Matt Corey, who creates potent imagined visuals with his effects while drawing dark humor from this murderous clatter (Corey's inclusion of lapping waves, chirping crickets, and overhead helicopters add important ambience too).
When the bandits finally break in, the play begins to take on otherworldly proportions befitting its tag line: "a new myth about the power of greed." They find no money but encounter a fourth character (the actor's name is deliberately unbilled, a surprise I won't spoil) dressed like a medieval monk, who sits watch over an ornate box and speaks cryptically about economics.
The rest of Lazy Fair tracks the fallout of this encounter, eventually flashing forward to the present day. To reveal more about the play would sour the revelations of this sly and succinct parable about moral hazard. Suffice it to say that Reyna's script is rife with heady financial jargon. References abound to economist Adam Smith's "invisible hand" theory of economics, to European austerity measures, to Walmart, and to those cancerous Kochs. It's all in service of a straightforward, if mystical, comeuppance narrative (the title derives from laissez-faire economics, the capitalists' system of deregulated choice).
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Reyna knows from pithy wordplay, as he proved in his terrific short The Scottish Play, which Mad Cat produced as part of its Mixtape 2 collection in 2014. That piece satirized geopolitics through flesh-and-blood avatars standing in for various nations and interests; Lazy Fair similarly describes such increasingly abstract concepts as wealth, death, and their relationship. It's easy to imagine the entire play sprouting from a single line at the very end of the piece, a summation — karma's a bitch, basically — that can't help but feel tidy and familiar.
Lazy Fair is a clever, observational fable, but as a piece of living theater, it's missing the thrill to match the intellect. There's a marvelous 15-minute short in here somewhere, but there isn't enough to justify the running time of this production — which seems padded by an unnecessary intermission. Under Reyna's deliberate direction, Quiroga, Clement, and Bartmon deliver quality work as required (the latter could drill her lines a bit more), but the writer/director gives them little opportunity to expand, transcend, or flex their actorly muscles.
The result is pleasing nonetheless, with a droll wit that might, admittedly, play better among the economics faculty at the University of Miami than a conventional audience. Lazy Fair is like a commendable appetizer from an inventive chef, sending us home anticipating the dynamite entrée that never materialized. Better yet, it's Chinese-food sort of a show — nourishing while it lasts but leaving you hungry a few hours later. At least its fortune-cookie wisdom rings true.
Lazy Fair, through September 6 at Mad Cat Theatre Company at Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores; $25; 305-751-9550, madcattheatre.org.