Metro, Arts, Theatre

In Macbeth Spinoff, ‘peerless’ Darkly Satirizes College Admissions

A scream pierces a silent theatre as the lights come up on stage left. Two girls, dressed identically, stand in front of a row of lockers. The girl on the left clutches an envelope in one fist and a letter in the other, visibly rattled. She utters one word, “deferred,” as her twin looks on in horror. After a back and forth exchange of disbelief, the second girl says “there’s always regular decision,” to which the first replies “No, they only take one.”  

So begins peerless, a play about college admissions with a fatal twist. While the college admissions process is a harrowing experience under normal circumstances, peerless, a play written by Jiehae Park and directed by Steven Bogart, takes this anxiety to new levels. Currently produced by Company One Theatre (C1) in Rabb Hall at the Boston Public Library, peerless runs through May 27 at the Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copley Square, the first time that a fully-staged production will occur in the space. In an effort to make the piece accessible to all, the event is pay-what-you-want with no minimum contribution.

Peerless focuses on twin sisters, M and L, whose devotion to one another may only be overshadowed by their desire to get into “The College.”  L has stayed back a year so that M could get into The College first and thus help L get in with “sibling preference.” The show follows their downward spiral into madness after M gets deferred from early application.

Based loosely on Macbeth, peerless takes the classic work by William Shakespeare for a modern jaunt. Instead of witches, peerless includes an ostracized “Dirty Girl,” a loner serving as the play’s stereotypical student who doesn’t quite fit in. Rumors swill around her, only adding to the mystique of her weird utterings and the influence they have over M and L. M and L essentially become Macbeth and Lady Macbeth respectively. Both are driven and determined, and L becomes M’s motivator when the increasingly dire consequences of their actions begin plaguing her conscience. The girls murder their way into gaining admittance, killing off boyfriends and schoolmates in an attempt to get the “one spot” that was taken from them.     

Playwright Jiehae Park found inspiration for M and L from the infamous Gibbons twins, June and Jennifer, identical girls who grew up in Wales in the 1960s. June and Jennifer rarely spoke to other people, and moved very slowly, seemingly  always in sync with each other. Their story is crime ridden, and resulted in the mysterious death of Jennifer at the age of 29.  

Much of the dialogue between the girls is fast paced, with one always finishing the other’s sentence. Kim Klasner and Khloe Alice Lin, who play M and L, respectively, did a lot of work outside of rehearsal to craft the relationship between the sisters. They talked about their own high school experiences, and what they thought the childhood of characters like L and M would be like.  

And, according to Klasner, each spent lots and lots of time perfecting the back and forth dialogue. Their hard work is evident, as they seamlessly deliver the line “Me.” “And then-” “You.” “You.” “And then-” “Me.” It is a mantra that they repeat throughout the show as they go about their evil deeds, reaffirming that all they do is with the end goal of both of them attending “The College.”

The versatile set allows the actors to move fluidly from one scene to another, giving the show, which runs for an hour and a half without intermission, an easy pace that keeps the audience engaged. Lighting and sound design complement the story and acting, matching the descent of M and L into madness.

The show deals with a number of hot button issues, including race and suicide. At one point, when the twins are discussing why M was deferred, she says “but I’m a double minority—Asian and a woman!” At another, there is a frank discussion of suicidal thoughts. While the play is a dark satire of the process of college admissions, it also doesn’t lack genuinely humorous moments. Klasner, who plays M, feels that the show does a good job of balancing the heavier topics with the lighter ones, and using them to complement each other. “[It] makes you laugh and catches you off-guard,” she said.  “It gives people a good way to approach a topic that usually is hard to bring up.”

In the end, however, peerless wants to grab your attention and make you think.

“We are all just excited to put it out there and talk about everything,” Klasner said. “Our goal is to start conversations.”

Featured Image by MaryElizabeth Mooney / Heights Staff

May 4, 2017