Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Peerless
Yale Repertory Theatre
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of Measure for Measure


Teresa Avia Lim and Tiffany Villarin
Photo by Joan Marcus
Peerless in world premiere at Yale Rep through December 19th, is a dark comedy which, as it unfolds, becomes stressful and scary—and this understates the augmenting tension. Playwright Jiehae Park writes an atonal if symphonic-like script, complete with crescendos and crashes. Margot Bordelon surely accelerates action. Peerless is striking and unforgettable.

Park was at a writers retreat working on something else when she thought about Shakespeare's Macbeth and wondered about a transformation of the title character and his manipulative wife into Asian-American twin teenagers. Thus, the genesis of the current play which carries fairly frightening implications.

This is all about getting into college and the cutthroat competitive which dominates many high school juniors and seniors. In a Midwest town, M (Tiffany Villarin) and L (Teresa Avia Lim) seek one of the few remaining admittances at a prestigious college. D (JD Taylor) is one of their classmates and he has secured a spot. To say the least, this is vexing to M and L. L, playing the Lady Macbeth role, urges M as a replacement for D. Meanwhile, actress Caroline Neff embodies Dirty Girl, who is unkempt, uninhibited and vastly annoying to the sisters. Dirty Girl, who will say, "Hail," stands in for one or more of the witches in Shakespeare's "Scottish play," as it's called. She is a misfit yet she is vital to the goings-on within the play. Actor Christopher Livingston is cast as BF, boyfriend of M.

The play's opening moments are actually quite funny as M and L, speaking with speed, talk at and over one another. They cannot agree. The snappy dialogue includes conversation about grades, what it takes to get into that dream school, and others they know. Park's scripting spirals in a different, far more ominous direction. Midway through, D explains that he once tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of Tylenol while in his mother's Subaru. Somewhat later, he reveals that he is severely allergic to certain cookies. He has an EpiPen ...

This biting, driving play, upsetting in that it depicts adolescent girls who are desperate, has a running time of eighty-something minutes. It feels much longer and this is a compliment to a vigorous production which features state-of-the art effects. Christopher Thompson is responsible for overall imaginative design. The lighting (Oliver Wason), sometimes shattering sound (Sinan Refik Zafar), and projections (Shawn Boyle) are proactive, huge factors, really, which contribute to the show's success. The use of shock, given the context of this production, is precise.

Director Bordelon coaxes the actors to fuel Park's tension-filled text. She releases the performers but is also able to gauge and control intensity. Movement director Fay Simpson, too, has an important role since cast members are never stagnant. Costumer Sydney Gallas's choices are excellent.

Teresa Avia Lim and Tiffany Villarin possess exquisite timing as they traverse, contend, and actualize Park's vision. JD Taylor, a physically malleable actor, and Caroline Neff, who fully inhabits the odd yet familiar Dirty Girl, are both perfect casting choices. Christopher Livingston, rounding out the cast as BF, is fine but does not have a whole lot to do.

Put it this way: Peerless escalates to the point where it is impossible not to squirm—because it exemplifies the horror of zealous pursuit (securing a slot in a college) gone wild. Hence, the initial Peerless fun is no longer fun. Those with active consciences are forced to consider where we are in 21st century America and where this trend leads us. Conclusions are upsetting and disturbing but, perhaps, not to be avoided.

Peerless continues at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut through December 19th, 2015. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.


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