Peerless begins with a large envelope dropping from the sky. On its outside are the crimson words: You’re in. And because you’re in, someone else isn’t. You beat them into the College because of your grades, your background, your experience. “It’s you and then me. Me and then you.”
With these words, playwright Jiehae Park tackles affirmative action, minority stereotypes, and college admissions in a story based on Macbeth. Her version, though, is fittingly called Peerless and runs through February 16 in a regional premiere by Theater Mu. Twins M and L (Francesca and Isabella Dawis, respectively) have done everything they could to get into the College. They picked their high school and mixed extracurriculars with a 4.8 weighted GPA (a little less in L’s case, but don’t remind her). They passed their days with their fellow students, beaming enigmatic, Cheshire cat smiles. They even joined separate grades since the College only accepts one person from their school per year. As they say, “Me and then you. You and then me.”
The line of succession gets messed up when M’s spot to the College goes to D (a show-stealing Neal Beckman). It turns out D has whipped out his family tree and unrooted his Native American great-grandfather’s heritage. He took what belonged to M and L. It’s unforgivable, and as they say, the ends justify the means.
Fitting for high school, director Lily Tung Crystal amps up the character stylization even more than a John Green novel. In the first scene, the Dawis twins overlap their words and their movements to be like intertwining snakes—or an ouroboros—and it’s too much, blurring up any hand hold for the audience to get fully into the scene. Once they untangle, though, the show settles into its rhythm with the help of a fluid set by Joe Stanley and a killer playlist by sound designer Kevin Springer. An extra kudos goes to costume designer Khamphian Vang. Vang not only outfit the twins in preppy, mod, 1950s-inspired looks but had the stroke of genius to give Beckman white tube socks to go with a brown suit that was both oversized and too short.
These socks make their debut at the school dance (as does D), where you learn way more about him than would be socially normal. However, underneath the TMI, ignorant non-PC comments, and flailing limbs (which are surprisingly on time to the Ke$ha song), you can tell that he has a heart of gold.
You can go to Peerless, enjoy the malevolent indulgence, and leave without asking yourself any of the questions that the play brings up. That’s not a bad thing. Instead of being didactic, the script lets you decide how much you want to contemplate the questions it poses and the problems it creates for a system that seemingly continues to rank race and experiences while trying to make them equitable. So, you tell us: Did D deserve the spot? In a world where only one student can rise to the top, what gives them the right to claim the throne?