Review of peerless
By Jiehae Park
Directed by Margot Bordelon
For tickets & schedule:
Marin Theatre Company
Mill Valley, CA
March 9 – April 2, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars
(March 22, 2017)
I will not look at gluten free cookies again without thinking of peerless. Playwright Jiehae Park populates this imaginative retelling of Macbeth with exaggerated versions of high school students we can relate to—D, the dopey nerd who manages to enjoy life in spite of himself, Dirty Girl, who disgusts and mesmerizes, dragging on a cigarette and ignoring expectations, and the driven academic achievers who eschew anything that does not fit into their perfect plan. While realistic, the drama heightens their personalities to throw a light on societal flaws. The pressure of being accepted to “The College” drives students to murder for a place, while gender and race gaps are addressed with brutal satire.
It is the sound of this play that is truly unique. Phrases are tossed back and forth, interrupting in overlapping chorus. The twins, L (Rinabeth Apostol) and M (Tiffany Villarin) begin in unison, almost with their own language, until it becomes clear that one dominates the other, and their relationship takes a damaging codependent turn, changing their intimacy into poison. Sound designer Palmer Hefferan creates an ever shifting background that culminates in the visceral and disturbing skittering rats that travel from one side of the stage to the other, using a trail of small speakers backstage. The atmosphere he creates is chilling, combined with Heather Basarab’s lighting design, which flashes into use during the hauntings.
References to Macbeth abound, from knocking to shouts of “Wake up!” a modern translation of “Sleep no more!” Rosie Hallett’s Dirty Girl is grounded with an air of dark prophecy to her, adding layers of magical realism that leave the audience wondering if perhaps she does see the future. Underneath the snappy repartee is an aura of mysticism that permeates the story, right until the final curtain. Kate Noll’s set design utilizes three sliding doors that move the narrative along—the middle panel might reveal a dance studio bathed in fuchsia light with a chattering L one moment, then close with the far right revealing a high school classroom of M and BF arguing about grades the next. It is a functional and dynamic way to shift between locations, although the brisk pace makes the story difficult to follow without prior familiarity with Macbeth.
M labors under the dictates of her sister, repressing the first glimmer of love, which Villarin’s expressive portrayal displays in soft shifts of expression, discomfort, and guilt which slowly drives her character mad. Apostol’s domineering L carries herself with vicious confidence, bereft of pity in her single-minded goal. Jeremy Kahn as D is awkwardly enthusiastic, naively reminiscing while L plots his downfall. His artless rambling about death and conquering fear is irresistibly charming.
Peerless is a nimble comedy of captivating characters with a twisted sense of humor and remarkable execution. Its clever dialog and ruthless twins take the stage by storm, leaving the audience laughing, and confused as to why they are doing so. Marin Theatre Company’s West Coast premiere of peerless is a rousing success.