By David A. Rosenberg
In clever, audacious “Peerless,” in an eye-popping though sometimes distracting world premiere production at Yale Rep, ambitious high school twin sisters, identified as L and M, are determined to be granted early admission into “The College” (read: Harvard). To do so, they’ll go to any lengths to get rid of the competition. Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Jiehae Park’s play is a story of revenge as nasty as its precursor.
L (the Lady Macbeth figure) hangs back a grade, waiting her turn. In cahoots with her twin, M (as the aspiring Macbeth), she manages to neutralize D, the sad-sack student whom “The College” already selected for early admission. “He takes up space that doesn’t belong to him,” says L, “space that belongs to others.” What happens subsequently to L, M and D shall remain a non-spoiler.
The play starts with an extended, very funny duologue between the sisters, their words overlapping, their emotions rising as they face their dilemma. Enter Dirty Girl, who looks like all three weird witches in “Macbeth.” Greeting M with “Hail,” she pops up repeatedly to issue doom-laden pronouncements. Also in the mix are BF, M’s calming boyfriend and DB, D’s lethal brother.
The 80-minute, intermission-less evening belongs as much to director Margot Bordelon and her technical assistants. Bordelon gussies up the script with color, sound, light and an express train pace at pretty much one -- loud and frantic -- level. Dizzying projections by Shawn Boyle, Christopher Thompson’s minimal sets, searing lighting by Oliver Wason, in addition to Sydney Gallas’ witty costumes and Sinan Refik Zafar’s crushing sound and original music pump up the action.
Teresa Avia Lim as L and Tiffany Villarin as M are terrific, as devious and conniving as the high school kids in the films “Election” and “Heathers.” JD Taylor is all-limbs and nerdy as D, vicious as DB, while Caroline Neff is wonderfully rancid as Dirty Girl, and Christopher Livingston is a sympathetic ear as the underwritten BF.
“Peerless” trades on our knowledge of the cut-throat ways students contrive to get into the college of their choice. It does so with a mixture of humor and menace, even though its free-flowing, psychedelic effects hinder emotional involvement. Still, as the tension escalates, the underlying nihilism surfaces and we are left to ponder not just two ambitious high-schoolers but a society built on getting ahead at whatever cost.