Peerless by Jiehae Park
I love seeing the preview productions at the Rep. Sometimes, as was the case on Friday night, the production has to stop, and work out some technical problems, and re-start when all is ready to go again. I once saw an actor ask for a prompt, during the preview performance. Having been an actor, I guess I like to know what is really going on backstage.
Peerless actually begins before the play gets started. There is no curtain for this show, and our main actors, a pair of twin sisters, are already on stage, sitting in school desks. Their faces are completely without expression, as they take notes in their high school classroom. Periodically, they stand up, walk to the back of the classroom, face each other, and fix the other’s hair, pull their crisp plaid skirts to perfection at the hem, and return to their desks in regimented gait. (This brought back memories of Jacques Tati’s film Playtime, where most scenes are shot with people walking in right angles in sets with no curves) But, we soon realize that there are also secrets, as one sister passes a note to the other, but no emotion shows on either one’s face. The note is simply answered, and sent back.
The actual play begins, with the sisters speaking quickly, excitedly to each other, almost in code, with words spilling out of their mouths percussively like they are being typed on a keyboard. They finish each other’s sentences as they review their PLAN. This plan is absolutely their raison d’etra. The plan is to get into their number one college pick, referred to in the play as, The College. So devoted they are to the plan, that one sister, named, L, repeated a year in school so that the two sisters would not compete for the one spot. That way, the other sister, named M, can throw the ladder back, and offer some leverage to add weight to her acceptance. They have considered every aspect of success, including their geographic location, their gender, and the fact that they are Asian. They have carefully chosen their AP classes, participate in a variety of diverse extracurricular activities, and are fluent in a few languages, including C++. They have considered everything, except for the possibility of someone else in their school who has his eyes on the same college, and this student might also have an ethnic advantage combined with an unusual family situation that could help him get noticed. He also attempted suicide once, and they figure that makes him somewhat more interesting than they are, and they are worried.
Finding inspiration from the Scottish play, playwright Jiehae Park has written an often funny, sometimes frightening piece about ambition and commitment to getting what you want, no matter the cost.
As sisters L and M, Teresa Avila Lim and Tiffany Villarin have just the right amounts of funny combined with psychotic. The utter ruthlessness of L comes forward when M comes dangerously close to abandoning the plan out of a sense of compassion for a fellow student. L immediately steps in to get her back to the reality of the importance of the plan, as if no other life scenario would be in any way tolerable should they fail.
JD Taylor is perfect in the duel role of D and DB, Christopher Livingston is SO charming in the role of BF, that I truly hope I see him in something that will offer him more stage time. In the roles of Dirty Girl and Preppy Girl, Caroline Neff could play strict stereo-type, and yet turns in a fully realized character in both parts.
The production was directed by Margot Bordelon, and the spectacular Projection Designs by Shawn Boyle were so exceptionally well done, I rather wished that he had taken a bow at curtain call.
Peerless is playing at the Yale Rep Theatre through December. Here is a great link to info on the playwright and the play.
(The night we saw the show, they did have an after the show talk. I don’t know if this will be throughout the run, but it was mentioned that they intended to bring the talks back on a regular basis.)