Many of America's working poor live paycheck to paycheck, but even payday is an elusive prospect for the Cheng family. In Tze Chun's Children of Invention, Elaine (Cindy Cheung), a single mother of two living on the outskirts of Boston, debunks the notion that the American Dream is attained by an ironclad work ethic alone. Elaine tries to stay afloat by working as a real estate agent and participating in pyramid schemes that work under the guise of peddling skin care products or vitamins. Her ex-husband has moved to Hong Kong and is remiss in sending child support payments. Her young children, Raymond (Michael Chen) and Tina (Crystal Chiu), are often left in the car or alone in their temporary living arrangement, living secretly in the model unit of an incomplete condominium building, where they subsist on ramen dinners. A new business venture is particularly attractive to Elaine after the scheme's ringleader offers to cover her $2,500 "membership fee" to widen the company's Asian-American reach — or, what Elaine fails to realize, dupe more immigrants. She remains active in the scheme even after quickly realizing that instead of selling products, her role is to recruit more people with the lure of big paychecks that she's yet to receive herself. After becoming increasingly embroiled in the scheme, Elaine mysteriously disappears and leaves the children to fend for themselves. Here is where the child actors shine, delivering sympathetic but never saccharine performances as they devise means to get by without their mother. The children's plan to peddle Raymond's creations — spaghetti-spinning forks and neckties with built-in penholders — and buy their old house back shows how necessity can indeed be the mother of invention. Chun's real-life experiences with his immigrant mother lend realism to the low-budget film, which was an official selection at 2009's Sundance Film Festival. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members, children 14-under free with paid adult. — Lauren LaBorde
Through June 20
Children of Invention
7:30 p.m. nightly June 11-June 20, except for June 14.
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net