Two Sisters are “Peerless” In Jiehae Park’s Dark Comedy at MTC

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According to Jason Minadakis, Artistic Director of Marin Theatre Company, “We welcome Jiehae Park for MTC’s 50th Anniversary Season.”  In its West Coast Premiere, Peerless is the new play at MTC and is a hyped-up, crazy, kinetic and (often) disturbing evening of theater.  Playwright Jiehae Park is presenting her view of high school life in the here and now, focusing on Asian-American twin sisters, excellently portrayed by  Rinabeth Apostol as “L” and Tiffany Villarin as “M”.  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 productionBe warned, though!  This show tends to focus on the underbelly of vices, and a number of scenes can be viewed as psychotic in tone.  Still, Park stays true to her vision and, if you are willing to go with it, Peerless can be quite a hair-raising ride.

From its opening moments, Peerless immediately displays the kind of show that’s going to be wildly hyper, with electric lighting effects and scene changes and a cold-feeling that permeates the entire 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 simply as “L” and “M”.  Their first scene 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 what they want without any thought of the consequences.  They are, basically, psychopaths willing to do anything to anyone who stands in their way!

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The biggest assets of Peerless are the performances of its terrific cast.  Rinabeth Apostol and Tiffany Villarin are perfectly matched as the twins, and they are both wickedly wonderful.  Dressed in stylish matching costumes (provided by the excellent Designer Sydney Gallas), they prove to be quite a pair.  The supporting cast is equally good: Jeremy Kahn is appropriately nerdy and insecure as “D” – a classmate of one of the twins (and the first in line for the college where L and M are striving to get acceptance).  The more athletic “BF” (Cameron Matthews) doesn’t have quite as large a role as his fellow cast members, though he is certainly memorable in the stage time he does have.  Finally, Rosie Hallett is appropriately gothic and creepy as the “Dirty Girl” who supposedly can predict the future, and she makes a brief appearance as “Preppy Girl.”  Dave Maier does an excellent job as Fight Director.

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It must be stated that in spite of the virtues in Peerless, the whole play doesn’t always come together in the way one would hope.  The choice of not having actual names for the characters in this show distances them from their audience; they often feel at arms-length.  Also, Peerless does dip into the realm of bizarre with strange dream sequences, and it is ultimately confusing as to exactly what occurs to the main characters near the conclusion.  It just seems to stop, and we don’t know what happens to them.  Further, Director Margot Bordelon keeps the action and dialogue moving at such a clip the audience can barely keep up with the dialogue, in particular.

However, some of these problems are eventually glossed over by the choreography and technology used in the play.  She has worked spectacularly with her designers.  The work of Scenic Designer Kate Knoll is quite dazzling, and high–tech Lighting Designer Heather Basarab works in perfect harmony with the Scenic Designer in giving the set an almost futuristic look and feel.  The work of Composer/Sound Designer Palmer Hefferan is also impressive in its overall coordination with the play action and set design.

Peerless at the Marin Theatre Company is quite an experience and goes by in a flash as one almost-psychedelic-intermission-less Act.  Playwright Jiehae Park can be commended in taking chances in her writing, and the world she has created onstage is ultimately quite fascinating (and frightening).  This play will never be everyone’s cup of tea – mostly because its main characters can clearly be seen as psychopaths.  Nevertheless, Peerless certainly does hold one’s attention throughout and is quite unlike anything I have ever seen onstage.  So, for the adventurous, Peerless may be worth checking out.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Photography by Kevin Berne

Peerless began its run March 9 and will continue through the matinee on April 2, 2017, at the home of the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley.

Evening Performances: 7:30 p.m., March 22 through March 31
Matinees: 1:00 p.m., Thursday, March 23
2:00 p.m., Sunday, March 26; Saturday, April 1; and Sunday, April 2
Dialogue: 10:00 a.m., Sunday, March 26

For tickets, contact Marin Theatre Company at 415-388-5208, or purchase online at boxoffice@marintheatre.org.

Coming up next will be the Bay Area Premiere of Guards at the Taj by Rajiv Joseph and directed by Jason Minadakis opening April 27th and continuing through May 21st, 2017.