“Peerless” at Barrington Stage Company
Reviewed by Macey Levin
When Barrington Stage Company Artistic Director Julianne Boyd introduced the play Peerless by Jiehae Park at its opening performance, she said, “Park is a new voice… The rhythms of the play are different… It’s a comedy until it isn’t… It has shades of Macbeth…” She didn’t say, “It’s a terrific piece of theatre!” And it certainly is.
The play centers on twin Asian sisters, seniors in high school, awaiting their college acceptances. L (the characters’ names are way off the beaten track) has applied to THE College (institution names are not used) and she is concerned that she’ll be beaten out. Her sister M (Sasha Diamond) assures her she has nothing to worry about, though L (Laura Sohn) is concerned about a nerdy classmate who may or may not be as bright as her.
The first several scenes depicting high school life are quite funny though a shadow of darkness hovers over the comic moments. A third of the way through this 85 minute play a corner is turned and we slowly find ourselves in a contemporary/teen-age version of Macbeth. You don’t have to know the Shakespeare play but it adds a level of intrigue to be aware of it as Peerless develops. The play, however, can stand alone.
Regarding the rhythms of the play, there are a number of very short scenes, almost as if a photograph was being taken. An actor appears who may or may not deliver a line, or an action occurs, and three seconds later there is a blackout. These fleeting moments add to the tension and help build the pace of the show as do short beats of sound that accompany the scenes.
Ms. Parks’ dialogue rings true for teenagers’ contemporary jargon complete with a plethora of four-letter words. The first full scene has the sisters in front of their lockers furtively discussing their situation. The dialogue overlaps as each sister completes the other’s sentences and knows exactly what the other is talking about though only a word or two has been spoken. These same teen-age speech patterns recur in the early part of the play but the dialogue becomes more structured as it enters the Macbeth phase.
The acting by the five principals is flawless, especially the twins. Though the two women are in their 20’s they have captured all the mannerisms and speech patterns of 17-year-olds. The other actors, Adina Verson (Dirty Girl/Preppy Girl,) Ronald Alexander Peet (BF,) and Ethan Dubin (D/D’s Brother,) all teen-age characters, also catch the needed physical and verbal shadings of that age group. All of them offer a dynamic example of acting.
John McDermott’s set is composed of colored sliding panels that reveal set pieces or act as backdrops for neutral scenes. They are utilitarian, but their movement across the stage, often controlled by the actors, adds to the taut atmosphere of the play. The lighting design by Oliver Wason, especially in the terse blackout scenes, also creates suspense as does the sound design of Jeremy S. Bloom. The costumes, designed by Elivia Bovenzi, reflect the characters’ age and, more important, their character.
Director Louisa Proske has done yeoman’s work in pulling strong and intelligent performances from her cast, staging a very difficult script and creating a tone that mesmerizes her audience. Everything works.
When members of the opening night audience speak of memorable theatrical experiences they will have to touch upon this peerless Peerless.
Barrington Stage Company presents Peerless by Jihae Park Directed by Louisa Proske
Cast: Adina Verson (Dirty Girl/Preppy Girl) Laura Sohn (L) Sasha Diamond (M) Ronald Alexander Peet (BF) Ethan Dubin (D/D’s Brother) Scene design: John McDermott; Lighting design: Oliver Wason; Costume design: Elivia Bovenzi; Sound design: Jeremy S. Bloom; Stage Manager: Marjorie M. Wood; Fight Choreographer: Ryan Winkles; Running Time: 85 minutes, no intermission; Barrington Stage Company, St. Germain Stage, Linden St., Pittsfield, MA; July 21 to August 6, 2016. http://barringtonstageco.org Box Office 413.236.8888