Review: MTC’s ‘Peerless’

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The poster art for Marin Theatre Company’s current production of the high-school comedy “Peerless” is mischievously ingenious. It features an illustration: a pair of smiling school girls, a silhouetted rat and crow, and a cartoonish x-eyed corpse – all so cutely and crisply drawn one might assume that – rats, crows and corpses aside – the new show is going to be kind of … well, sweet.

Ha! Ferocious and funny, unstoppably energetic, and sharp as a pointed stick, playwright Jihae Park’s deliciously wicked satire is anything but sweet. On the contrary, it’s like “Macbeth’ crossed with “Heathers,’ with echos of ‘Dead Ringers’ and, okay, perhaps even a glimmer of Disney’s ‘The Parent Trap.’

This bold and brilliant, impeccably staged play – a west coast premiere for MTC – takes the basic through-line of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play, and reimagines it as a relentless, breakneck parody of America’s dog-eat-dog University application process. In reality, smart and ambitious teenagers are annually pitted against each other in a Hunger Games-like competition for spots in the best universities. In “Peerless,” it’s twin sisters M (Tiffany Villarin) and L (Rinabeth Apostol) who’ve built their lives around a plan to gain admission to one particular school.

MTC_peerless_Villarin_Apostol_Kevin_Berne_HiResWhen the over-achieving twosome learn, at the top of the show – the moment underscored by a thick, falling envelope hitting the stage with a violent sforzando – that someone else at their elite private high school has been awarded the spot M was hoping for, the sisters immediately, um, go a little nuts. Especially L, who’s deliberately stayed behind a year, so M could win entrance to their targeted college, thus establishing “sibling privilege,” through which she might be admitted the following year.

But that space has now been taken by D (Jeremy Kahn, outstanding), a nerdy goofball who’s allergic to cashews, and quite possibly has a huge crush on M. Goaded on by a colorful school weirdo known as Dirty Girl (Rosie Halett, marvelous), the twins concoct a hilariously low-tech murder. But when M finds herself falling for her intended victim, L must take the lead in insuring that their collegiate dreams come true. Meanwhile, M’s clueless ex-boyfriend BF (Cameron Matthews) keeps accidentally getting in the way.

“Peerless” is directed with breathless momentum by Margot Bordelon, who puts her first-rate cast – especially the amazing Apostol and Villarin – through a non-stop aerobic workout from beginning to end. Blending uproarious humor, scathing observations about race, power and privilege – and one truly horrify death – Jihae Park’s bloody-good “Peerless” truly is without equal.

4-1/2 Stars

‘Peerless’ runs Tuesday–Sunday through April 2 at Marin Theatre Company. 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Times vary. $20-$58. 415.388.5208

 

 

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