Mad Cat Theatre Company describes Theo Reyna’s world premiere play Lazy Fair as “a new myth on the power of greed.” You could also call it an allegory that uses four vivid characters to explore mankind’s fraught, complex relationship with money, the thing that makes the world go ’round.
The title, a riff on the laissez-faire principle of letting business operate with minimal interference from government, is part of the money-related imagery, terminology and conventional wisdom, elements embedded in lines that fly fast and furiously during Reyna’s dense, mysterious 90-minute play.
Staged by the playwright, who also appears in the unbilled role of Monkey (a kind of money whisperer), Lazy Fair is in the tradition of Reyna’s earlier, shorter The Scottish Play. That one cleverly used a family breakup to explore Scotland’s independence movement.
Lazy Fair looks at the execution and aftermath of a heist somewhere in the world (Paul Tei’s costumes suggest the Middle East). The caper plays out in flashback. In the present, a decade after the theft went all kinds of wrong, the three plotters reunite and turn on each other.
Rip (Ken Clement) is the conniving ringleader who wound up with the spoils: what looks like an empty box, though Monkey assures him it contains the spirit of money. Otto (Andy Quiroga), a tightly wound worrier, suffers from memory lapses because of an injury he suffered in the bomb blast 10 years earlier — at least, that’s how Rip tells it. Sandra (Meredith Bartmon) has remained friendly with Otto, but she has a tendency to vanish and reappear. As for Rip, he’s dead to her, and she’d like to make that literal.
The three rationalize their crime initially by deciding the rich have way too much money, so a little redistribution of wealth is in order. Otto frets that money will change their friendship, and he’s right. There is talk of Super PACs, the sub-prime mortgage collapse, the Sinaloa Cartel, ponzi schemes, the Koch brothers. The idea that friends shouldn’t discuss money comes up more than once.
Lazy Fair is a relatively short play overstuffed with ideas. Though Reyna, a gifted theater artist, writes good dialogue, the beginning of the play is so deliberately puzzling that the audience takes too long to get invested in the characters and story. Since Reyna is also acting in the play, Lazy Fair might have benefitted (as so many first productions do) from having someone else direct it so that Reyna could focus on his work as a playwright.
Even so, Mad Cat gives the play an intriguing production. Sound designer Matt Corey contributes subtle music and a horrific effect suggesting repeated executions. Tei, who also did the set, and lighting designer Melissa Santiago Keenan create a world of shadows and smoke. And three fine actors (well, four counting Reyna) give it their all. Clement’s Rip is a smooth-talking bully whose loyalty is nonexistent. Bartmon’s Sandra is pragmatic and every bit as ruthless as Rip. Quiroga, a ball of nervous energy, supplies most of the laughs as Otto.
Mad Cat, now the resident theater company at Miami Theater Center, has a 15-year history of new, boundary-pushing, category-busting work. Lazy Fair is now part of that tradition, and with some rewrites and tweaks, it could emerge as a play with a future.