By Karen Isaacs
It’s another world premiere at Yale rep – peerless by Jiehae Park, a young playwright who shows promise at looking at things in a unique way.
In this case, she looks at the college admission process particularly for those high achieving students who want to get into “the one” college. We have twin sisters (M and L) who, since they are Asian, feel isolated at their “nowheresville” high school. They are high achievers and they have a plan for playing the college admissions game. They are going to capitalize on the college’s desire for diversity; one sister (L) has stayed back a year and the plan is for first M and then L to gain the coveted admission. Apparently this college seems to take just one student from the high school each year.
Their plan is disrupted when D, a boy at the high school who has a brother with disabilities, gains the early decision acceptance. What to do?
The “younger” sister, M hatches a plan and here is where the play begins its spin on MacBeth. Let’s think of M as Lady MacBeth who hatches the plot and spurs L (MacBeth) on to kill D (who is Duncan) so that the coveted spot will fall to L. But just as in MacBeth, there is someone else in the way: BF an African-American athlete who instead is given the acceptance.
We even have the three witches, in this case Dirty Girl, the high school outcast who whispers predictions to M and later L.
Park doesn’t slavishly follow the MacBeth plot but riffs on some elements of the story. There’s even a reference to the famous “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech.
While peerless may be ‘fluff” it energetic and amusing “fluff”. It’s fascinating how Park has the sisters finish each other’s sentences – sometimes even words – when they are together. They are like one person split in two. The girls seem knowing and aware of the world and, as M says, determined to get what they deserve which is “everything.”
It is also a knowing look at the cut-throat game of college admissions for the super talented students who want to go the “best” schools. The constant adding up of possible admission pluses — GPA, honors and advanced placement course, athletics, extracurricular activities, volunteer “good works” and preferences from ethnic to geographic to sibling. My daughter-in-law, who works at an area high school, laughed knowingly at many points in the story; particularly when the dialogue turned to admission essays.
Director Margot Bordelon has assembled a talented cast starting with Teresa Avia Lim as L, the junior in high school, and Tiffany Villarin as M, the “elder” sister. The two capture that sibling relationship of both love and one- upmanship. While in their 20s both seem like 18 year olds and their voices are perfectly “adolescent.” Caroline Neff is excellent as “dirty girl” and later in a brief final scene “preppy girl” – there is both menace and yearning in her portrayal. Christopher Livingston plays BF, the boy friend who takes the coveted spot while JD Taylor plays both D and his brother DB.
Christopher Thomson did the outstanding scenic design which combined with the spot on costumes by Sydney Gallas, and the lighting by Oliver Wason all contributed to creating the variety of locations.
peerless is an entertaining 90 minutes of theater which propels into the world of today’s teenagers. I’m not sure it is great theater but Jiahae Park is a promising young playwright.
peerless is at Yale Rep’s University Theater, 222 York St., New Haven, through December 19. For tickets contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-432-1234.