“Peerless,” with its darkly comic perspective on privilege, race and societal expectations, is now on stage at ArtsWest in a propulsive, immensely entertaining production directed by Sara Porkalob.
Scenes don’t unfold in Jiehae Park’s “Peerless.” They rush forth like a torrent, words intersecting with words upon words. The staccato rhythm of her dialogue, pinging back and forth between characters, belies its complexity.
A comic riff on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” “Peerless” is now on stage at ArtsWest in a propulsive, immensely entertaining production directed by Sara Porkalob. This is a carefully honed play, internalizing its inspiration’s thoughts on power grabs and fated ends, and leavening them with a darkly comic perspective on privilege, race and societal expectations. The laboratory for this amalgam: an unremarkable Midwestern high school where a pair of Asian-American twins have long prepared for their next step.
L (Maile Wong) and M (Corinne Magin) are nothing if not planners. With one early admittance available to an exclusive college — “The College” — per year, L has hung back a grade. This is M’s year. A 4.8 weighted GPA, killer test scores, perfect extracurriculars, an essay about her summer in Africa. She’s ready. She’s done everything she’s supposed to. She didn’t get in.
By Jiehae Park. Through Sunday, Feb. 11, ArtsWest, 4711 California Ave S.W., Seattle; $17-$38 (206-938-0339, artswest.org)
“Your spot in the class of 2020 has been taken,” M reads ruefully.
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The bile flows freely, and always in perfectly synchronized harmony from these two, whose lines interlock like a dagger and its sheath. Wong and Magin perform Park’s intricate webs of words effortlessly, a necessity for two characters whose abilities are just as polished as their ambitions. There’s a little extra-textual haughtiness here, seeming to say, “You thought this would be difficult for us? Please.”
While Magin plays M as an intensely internal figure, her fiercest piques of frustration reserved for herself, Wong’s L is gleefully ready to wreak havoc wherever necessary. Obviously, the usurper, D (Christopher Quilici), must be dealt with. How did he even get in anyway, the pair wonders? Is it his brother with cystic fibrosis? Or that tiny sliver of Native American heritage? It doesn’t matter. L has a plan.
Quilici’s D is brimming with unearned confidence, but he finds ways to endear himself to us and to M. Goofy, nervous dance moves go a long way. A homecoming date, where L schemes and D bumbles gracelessly and M is struck with indecision exemplifies Park’s strength at making the audience feel many ways at once. The scene is funny, pathetic, menacing and cruel. Most of her scenes are.
Like “Macbeth,” there’s also a key element of mysticism, and Shakespeare’s witches are embodied here by Erin Bednarz’s Dirty Girl, a dreadlocked, rat-loving figure prone to making proclamations of doom. Less integrated into the plot is M’s boyfriend (Jonathan Keyes), though he too will get a turn in the crosshairs of a pair of sisters willing to do anything to get what they deserve.
Running a quick 90 minutes with no intermission and minimal scenic changes, Porkalob’s staging moves with the single-minded efficiency of its two leads. And like those two characters, its complicating facets are many. In Park’s introductory script notes, she says, “This play is a comedy. Until it’s not.” Finding that demarcation isn’t so simple.