If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Peerless” Channels “Macbeth” at Yale Rep
Two Asian high school twin sisters are introduced early on in “Peerless”, the frisky, often exhausting new play currently having its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre. The girls fit the un-PC stereotype of the Asian overachiever as they rapid-speak the play’s through line of a plot: these teens are going to graduate with top honors and get into the college of their choice no matter what it takes. Those brats in “Heathers” look like dimwitted slackers compared to this duo.
Program notes at Yale tell us that Jiehae Park’s contemporary black comedy has utilized “Macbeth” as its inspiration and, indeed, there are plenty of shout-outs here to indicate that Ms. Park has spent a fair amount of time examining the “Scottish Play”. With its central theme of ambition, the play finds one sister (Teresa Avia Lim) acting as Lady Macbeth to her insecure twin (Tiffany Villarin). There is also an otherworldly aspect of the play with dark forces in the form of unseen winged creatures stirring the pot. But I have to admit that the Bard’s tragedy would not have entered my mind if not for the program notes. Park’s satiric view of the college scene, the politics of diversity and the cutthroat need to succeed still doesn’t convey the menace or tragic heft of “Macbeth” but it certainly tries hard. Too hard.
Under the breathless direction of Margo Bordelon, the casting at Yale is first-rate beginning with Lim and Villarin who are nothing less than superb in the lead roles. The small company also boasts Caroline Neff’s truly weird sister, “Dirty Girl”, as well as a pair of unlucky classmates of the twins played very well by Christopher Livingston and JD Taylor. The energy is never lacking in “Peerless” and the volume is set at 10 throughout, which ultimately makes its satire both loud and heavy-handed. And even as it clocks in at a fast-paced 80 minutes (without intermission), it eventually grows tiresome and repetitive. In the end, Park’s script doesn’t give its wonderful cast nearly enough variety or substance to play.
Cheers, however, to the brilliant design team at Yale, beginning with Shawn Boyle’s superlative projections. Boyle takes Christopher Thompson’s simple school brick setting highlighted by a pair of neon lockers and creates magic with every new scene. Oliver Wason’s masterful lighting helps accent those areas brilliantly and Sinan Refik Zafar’s sound design and original music is non-stop invention. Sydney Gallas’ costuming captures the diverse high school scene with wit and accuracy. As we’ve come to expect, Yale has delivered top talent in all departments. Now if it only had a play worthy of all its professional support.
“Peerless” continue at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through December 19. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.