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THEATER REVIEW: “The Grift at the Lafayette Hotel”

The way to get back at a scammer is to beat him at his own game.

At least that’s what Tom Salamon thinks, and since he wrote “The Grift at the Lafayette Hotel,” La Jolla Playhouse’s latest site-specific WOW project, all comers are going to try it for themselves.

Well, actually for the team: the show takes teams of eight through five attempted scams to see how good they are at it, working their way up to the final big-payoff art auction grift.

Salamon, also creator of the Playhouse’s previous, hugely successful “Accomplice: San Diego” in Old Town, offers the world premiere of his latest immersive adventure that gets everybody involved. It plays through March 22.

We first meet Ben (Jim Chovick), who under, um, interesting circumstances grew up at the Lafayette in the care of a nanny. Ben learned the grift at the hotel, and now he wants us to bring down bad guy Chicago Joe (Bernard X. Kopsho) with the Fare Thee Well scam.

But first we’ll have a little something to eat and a drink (included) while the bartender’s grandson (Lucas Coleman) explains the first adventure: reporting to the bartender that a figurine of great personal importance has been lost, and you will pay $50 if it’s returned. Then a second grifter takes the “found” item and sells it to the bartender for whatever he can get. Of course, the original “owner” never returns to pay the bartender for the figurine.

The rest of the grifts are similar, and occur in the hotel’s historical archives, a cabana by the pool, the lobby and finally to room 426 where Eloise (Yvette Angulo), the chambermaid’s daughter, wants to ensnare Chicago Joe himself in a high-yield investment scam.

The pièce de résistance is the final art scam in which a phony Monet will be sold at auction. Chicago Joe likes Monet. We are told to run the bidding up as high as possible. Will it work?

These WOW events are really just excuses to get together with friends (or make new ones) and get involved in a fun afternoon or evening of goofy actions.

The “leaders” of each grift – Dana Lau (the nanny’s granddaughter), Scott Nickley (the lifeguard’s grandson), Cris O’Bryon (the bellhop’s grandson), in addition to those previously mentioned – along with narrator Matt Thompson keep us busy learning grifts with official names like Pig in a Poke, Glim-Dropper and Round-the Corner. It’s all great fun, and the more involved you get, the more fun it is.

And participants get the added benefit of a chance to scope out the stately old ’40s-era Lafayette Hotel in North Park.

The details

“The Grift at the Lafayette Hotel” plays through March 22 at the Lafayette Hotel, 2223 El Cajon Blvd., North Park in San Diego, California.

Tuesday through Thursday at 7 pm; Friday at 6 and 8:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 3, 6 and 8:30 pm.

Tickets: (858) 550-1010 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.