peerless is a Daring Dark Ride at Yale Rep
By Amy J. Barry
If you’re yearning for play that’s a politically incorrect, darkly humorous, ultra-modern-day take on Macbeth with a classic murder mystery twist, peerless at Yale Rep surely fits the bill.
This delightfully eccentric, wild ride of a play by Jiehae Park, superbly directed by Margot Bordelon, packs quite a punch due to its very talented young ensemble cast of five -- all making their Yale Rep debuts. Hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more of these terrific actors.
The play takes many strange turns and creates a whirlwind of shocking surprises in its one manic 80-minute act.
Making a mockery of the current craze to get into the top college at all costs, ambitious Asian American twin sisters in their senior year of high school move to a Midwestern suburb they refer to as “nowheresville,” choosing isolation in hopes of, as playwright Park says, “leveraging it into the geographical diversity needed to get into ‘The College.’”
Intended by Park as surreal stand-ins for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, L, played by Teresa Avia Lim and M, played by Tiffany Villarin dress alike and talk alike. They finish each other’s sentence, quite literally, speaking in perfect synchronicity.
When they discover that their spot in the class of 2020 has been taken by D, played by JD Taylor, they go berserk. They learn that he got into their prized school because of an essay he wrote about his “retarded” brother—he actually has cystic fibrosis -- and because D uncovered the fact that’ he’s one-sixteenth Native American.
In order to regain their early admission status, the sisters embark on a ruthless plot to kill JD at a high school Hoop (vs. Home) Coming in which they appear in ridiculously poufy matching pink prom dresses and dance awkwardly with JD to bad pop music.
Park has drawn the sisters as a satirical stereotype of brainy young Asian American women who are great at math but can’t dance worth a damn. One wonders if she could get away with this if she wasn’t Asian American herself.
L is more coldhearted than M, who has a bigger heart and is very uncomfortable at first with murdering the sweet, funny kind D.
Taylor’s performance is exceptional crafting his ridiculous, vulnerable, lovable, nerdy, non-stop chattering character out of the witty and outrageous lines Park has given him.
L wins M over to the dark side, and she agrees to join her in seducing D in his finished basement and feeding him cookies containing nuts that will kill him—not peanuts, mind you, that would be too obvious. The plot thickens, and without giving too much away, let’s just say D’s disabled brother DB, also performed by Taylor, gets his revenge big time.
Although his role is less integral to the play, Christopher Livingston gives a fine performance as BF -- M’s African American boyfriend. And Caroline Neff is full of evil energy in her role of the mean, racist Dirty Girl, who can predict the future, likely based on Macbeth’s three witches, although it’s not clear what this weird role does to move the plot forward or particularly enhance the production.
Christopher Thompson’s minimalist set design is a fabulous collaboration with Oliver Watson’s bold, abstract lighting projected by Shawn Boyle.
Sinan Refik Zafar deserves mention for his edgy, hip sound design and original music score, and Sydney Gallas’s exaggerated costume design pairs perfectly with the play’s theater-of-the-absurd mood.
peerless is at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven through Dec. 19. Tickets are available online at www.yalerep.org, or by calling the box office at 203-432-1234.
This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com