Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"peerless"


peerless
Jiehae Park

L: You and then
M: You, that’s what we planned for.
M: Me and then
L: Me.
M: That’s why we came here.
L: That’s what it’s always been.

Tiffany Villarin & Rinabeth Apostol
L & M: Identical twins.  The prettiest and smartest girls in their Midwestern high school.  Of Asian descent.  Perfect SAT scores.  Perfect grades.  Each stellar in all respects.  Each a prime ... no, each THE prime candidate for the historically one early decision spot that “The College” (you know, the back East, Ivy League type with ivy, columns, brick and dripping with prestige) awards each year to their high school.  And, a sister- sworn oath for L to hold back a year so M gets this year’s spot; and L, next year’s.

That is until “the fat envelope” of acceptance from “The College” drops from the sky into the hands of D, the nicest but dorkiest guy in the class who just happens to be (gasp, how could he be?) one-sixteenth Native American ... somehow out-stripping their 100% Asian-American (and female) pedigree. 

But that is all until the crazy, smelly (but clearly prophetic) Dirty Girl says point-blankly to M that while she did not yet get into this year’s slot, “You will ... and your little dog, too.”

Thus sets up a high-school comedy hyper-hip in its back-and-forth banter, its text-quick pace, and its locker-planned pacts and plots – a comedy, that is, until it is not. 

In writing peerless, Jiehae Park has loosely structured her characters and progression of events based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  However, the more twists and turns that the story takes as the twins seek to thwart anyone else getting that one crowning seat on the admission list , the more the similarities become less “loose” and instead become “tightly coupled” to the original story of Macbeth and his Lady (Hint: “M” and “L”).  Marin Theatre presents the West Coast premiere of Jiehae Park’s peerless in a brilliantly conceived, directed, and acted production that moves at whirlwind speeds through events that move audience from leaning back in their seats in full laughter to moving to the edge of their seats in tight-mouthed, tense anticipation of what will happen next.

Rinabeth Apostol (“L”) and Tiffany Villarin (“M”) are nothing short of astounding as they rattle off often at breakneck speeds sisterly conversations where each picks up the past two-to-five words and continues the thought, changes the subject, or inserts a surprise – only to be quickly usurped by the immediate retort of her identical half.  And mirror images they are in their preppy outfits and hair-dos with the exception that L always dons or carries something yellow, and M, something red. 

L (think Lady Macbeth) is the scheming plotter and relentless pusher who wants to ensure that the more reticent M increases her own drive and boldness (sound familiar to wanna-be king you know?) as M more and more believes the prophetic signs she is seeing that it is inevitable the one admissions spot is hers/theirs.   The sisters never lose a minute of the play’s fast eighty to become ever more determined to outsmart, undermine, and overcome anyone (everyone) who gets in their way to ultimate success.  The two actors are shockingly good as they employ their entire beings in their initial frenzy and fury, their later posturing and plotting, and their eventual dives into final diabolism to secure admission.  The Bard would be so proud.

Rosie Hallett & Tiffany Villarin
Just as the Weird Sisters get a reluctant, unbelieving Macbeth started down a no-exit path to fulfill at any cost his ever-gnawing ambition, Dirty Girl does the same for M.  Rosie Hallett is that kid in school everyone knows but never talks to – the one in dreadlocks, all black clothes with lots of holes, over-sized boots, and gross smells from not having bathed in weeks.  She suddenly appears from nowhere, moves more on all-fours than upright, and tends to scream nonsensical sounds between her growls and grunts.  (Remember her from high school now?)  Each time she shows up, she seems to offer enough evidence of what is to come (e.g., how did she know M’s statistics test score before M did?), leading M with wide-eyes to tell L, “There’s something she knows.”  Rosie Hallett gleams from her darkened eyes a knowledge that hints at evil doings and spits with a venom her next prediction, all the while grinning a smile that could easily send shudders down most coeds’ necks – but no longer down M’s.  Dirty Girl is now her go-to, hallway seer.

Into the sister’s road to The College lands a possible roadblock named D -- the nicest, most innocent, most trusting guy ever who is nothing if he is not also the most gawky, embarrassingly loud, and goofiest dresser in the school.  This otherwise average student just happens also to be one of thirteen left in his Native American tribe – and the other twelve are senior citizens.  And recall that D has already been the one picked to go to The College.

Jeremy Kahn
Jeremy Kahn pretty much steals the show in his spot-on portrayal of the baggy pants, aw-shucks D (for those Shakespeare buffs, the King Duncan of the cast), who can hardly shut up telling the twins how excited he is that he and his cystic-fibrosis-suffering brother (also played by Mr. Kahn) get to be their dates at the Hoopcoming dance.  As he nervously shifts the weight of his tall body with his long arms continually gyrating through the air while enthusiasm exudes his every pore, there is little he does not reveal to the sisters.  Without hesitation, he literally shouts with glee to the now-listening sibs about his fatal allergy to tree nuts and the EpiPen he always wears around his neck, ready to plunge its medicine quickly into his thigh if a walnut touches his lips.  Maybe he should have listened to his mother who told him not to talk so much.

Rounding out this excellent cast is Cameron Matthews who is the studly, All-American (and also African-American) BF – ‘BF’ being his name and his boyfriend relationship to M.  He too is vying for that one cherished spot at “The College,” unbeknownst to his girl M.  As his prototype-of-sorts Banquo could tell him (if he were still alive), he might better think twice and just keep eating the candy bars he is always munching and forget “The College” – as well as his GF, M.

Rinabeth Apostol & Tiffany Villarin
The lightning speed of much of the dialogue and the sudden turns in events is enhanced by Kate Noll’s set design that sees scenes quickly come and go behind three, garage-size doors.  The three inserts are like frames of a cartoon script.  That feeling of a bizarre set of funnies is further enhanced by the high in bright color and wild in shape and style costumes that often are donned by the characters (especially the twins), all designed by Sydney Gallas.  (The twins in their prom dresses of bright blue that reach only to their knees but are a half-room in diameter, given all the petticoats under them, are such one example of the designer’s tongue-in-cheek approach.)

Much of the looming mystery and portend of bad things to come is accentuated by the inspired lighting design of Heather Basarab, whose projected shadows often take on a life unto themselves in telling the story to come based on the action now occurring.  Palmer Hefferan’s original, musical compositions provide a familiar teenage pulse that also has a cutting-edge harshness to arouse suspicion that all is not as it seems in these high school hallways.  His sound design provides elements of increasing creepiness that fit the storyline perfectly.  All production elements and cast members are directed by Margo Bordelon with a timing that is split-second and a bent toward the uncanny.

In so many respects, Jiehae Park’s peerless in fact has no peers among current, live theatre offerings – especially in the imaginative, inventive, and highly invigorating manner presented by Marin Theatre where the boundaries between comedy and tragedy are so vague for it to be a real mystery as to how to label the play.  No matter because how I label peerless is as first-class, must-see entertainment.

Rating: 5 E

peerless continues through April 2 at Marin Theatre, at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA.  Tickets are available online at http://www.marintheatre.org or by calling the box office Tuesday – Sunday, 12 -5 p.m.

Photos by Kevin Berne

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