Yale Repertory Theatre
“peerless,” the new play at the Yale Repertory Theatre, is a hyped-up, crazy, kinetic and often disturbingly funny evening of theatre. Reminiscent somewhat in tone to the film “Heathers,” playwright Jiehae Park is presenting her view of high school life here and now. Focusing on Asian-American twin sisters, excellently played by Teresa Avia Lim and Tiffany Villarin, “peerless” is essentially about exactly how far these girls will go to get early acceptance to the college of their choice. Director Margot Bordelon has worked exceptionally well with the playwright and her designers in fashioning a flashy, fast-moving production. Be warned, though, that this show tends to focus on the underbelly of vices and a number of the scenes can feel borderline psychotic in tone. Still, Jiehae Park stays true to her vision and, if you are willing to go with it, “peerless” can be quite a ride.
From the opening moments, “peerless” immediately displays the kind of show it is going to be: wildly hyper, with electric lighting effects and scene changes, and a cold, almost antiseptic feeling permeating throughout the play. It is somewhat appropriate that none of the characters have actual names; pointedly, the twin girls at the center of the show are known as “L” and “M.” Their first scene together has them speaking in rapid-fire, often hilarious dialogue, frequently finishing each other’s sentences. The plot of “peerless” is essentially the single-minded pursuit of these girls to get exactly what they want, without any thought of the consequences. In some ways “L” and “M” are reminiscent of the character of Rhoda in Maxwell Anderson’s play “The Bad Seed”: they are basically psychopaths who are willing to do anything (including murder) to anyone who stands in their way.
Still, I am loath to give any more of the show’s plot away. There are too many surprises in “peerless” and I would hate to spoil the full effect of the show. One of the biggest assets in this play are the terrific performances by the entire cast. Teresa Avia Lim and Tiffany Villarin are perfectly matched as the twins and they are both wickedly wonderful. Dressed in stylish matching costumes (supplied by the excellent designer Sydney Gallas), save for the color of their backpacks and hair ties, and they prove to be quite a pair.
The supporting cast is equally good. J. D. Taylor is appropriately nerdy and insecure as one of the twins’ classmates (and the one who is first in line to go to the college that “L” and “M” strive to get into). The more athletic Christopher Livingston doesn’t have quite as strong a character as his fellow cast members, but he is certainly memorable in what stage time he does have. Finally, Caroline Neff is appropriately gothic and creepy as “Dirty Girl” (who supposedly can predict the future) and she also makes a brief appearance in the last scene as “Preppy Girl.”
It must be stated that in addition to the virtues in “peerless,” the whole play doesn’t always come together in the way one would hope. The choice of having the characters in the show not have actual names does actually have the effect of distancing the audience from them; indeed, they often feel at arm’s length. Plus, “peerless” does dip into the realm of the bizarre, with some strange dream sequences, and it is ultimately confusing exactly what occurs to the main characters near the conclusion.
Still, director Margot Bordelon keeps the action moving at such a clip that some of these problems are eventually glossed over. In addition, she has worked spectacularly with her designers, including scenic designer Christopher Thompson, whose work is quite dazzling and hi-tech. Lighting designer Oliver Wason works in perfect accordance with the set designer in giving “peerless” an up-to-the-minute, almost futuristic look. The work of projection designer Shawn Boyle and sound designer Sinan Refik Zafar (who also contributes the music for the show) is just as impressive.
“peerless” at the Yale Repertory Theatre is quite a heady experience and it goes by in a flash in one almost psychedelic, intermission-less act. Playwright Jiehae Park can be commended in taking chances with her writing and the world that she has created onstage is ultimately quite fascinating (and frightening). This play will never be everyone’s cup of tea, considering the fact that its main characters can be clearly characterized as psychopaths. Still, “peerless” certainly does hold one’s attention throughout and it is unlike anything I have ever seen onstage. So, for the adventurous, “peerless” is one show that may be worth checking out.
“peerless” continues performances at the Yale Repertory in New Haven, CT through December 19, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.