BWW Review: ArtsWest's PEERLESS is a Well-Executed Tale of Modern Fury

BWW Review: ArtsWest's PEERLESS is a Well-Executed Tale of Modern Fury
Corinne Magin and Maile Wong in
Peerless
Photo credit: John McLellan

Would you murder to get into college-or could you at least empathize with someone who would? "Peerless" re-imagines the violent world of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" as a modern struggle fought by anxious over-qualified teens for limited college admission spots. Directed by Sara Porkalob, this adaptation makes collegiate acceptance feel life-or-death.

Asian-American twin sisters M and L will stop at nothing to steal the one affirmative action spot at an unnamed, prestigious college. The person who snags that spot is D, a white, male colleague who is 1/16 Native American-apparently diverse enough to qualify. M and L decide to take extreme measures to ensure at least one of them secures that spot.

Like Lady Macbeth and Macbeth plotting against MacDuff, L and M decide to solve their problem, D, by murdering him. L and M never feel the same way about the plan at the same time: when one feels guilty and wants to back out, the other ruthlessly presses on. L's amount of pushiness has an ominous undertone, given the lengths she's willing to go so that her sister will get into college (L does not academically qualify). But M is self-serving enough to be blind to L's potential ulterior motive.

Director Sara Porkalob makes the production feel even more Shakespearean by emphasizing the sheer drama of this situation. Murdering over the chance to get into a prestigious institution is extreme, but it's also made plausible by Porkalob's stark vision.

Reiko Huffman's scenic design is unusually sparse and industrial for ArtsWest-an entirely gray palette, the stage juts to a pinpointed triangle, and dangling slats divide the grey backdrop into equal parts, like the teeth of a comb. Heavy and cold, there is nothing comfortable or grounding about this environment.

L (Maile Wong) and M (Corinne Magin) have excellent chemistry and impressively calibrated intensities that match the outlandish plot developments. Christopher Quilici, playing D as the down-on-his-luck competition to L and M, captures a familiar type of pitiful. His portrayal of D's dweebiness is grounded and realistic among an otherwise outlandish cast of characters. Caroline, also known as "Dirty Girl" (Erin Bednarz), is an amalgam of the three witches from "Macbeth"; she's also an amalgam of most high school punk/goth/burnout clichés (pentagram on her jacket, ripped fishnets, a pet rat in her satchel). Bednarz's portrayal at times feels more like a bully than an outcast (at one point throwing spitballs at the back of M's head), but it works, because her tough, "over-it" façade makes it even harder to gauge whether she's trustworthy.

The show does have some pacing issues. The scenes at the homecoming dance and at D's house drag a bit, which may be a side effect of D's incessant nervous talking. Both of these scenes contain tense, pivotal plot-points where the tension gets so drawn out that it wears thin and feels tiresome. Granted, all of the run-around felt nightmarish, but perhaps not in an intended way.

"Peerless" is relevant, eerie, and at times tremendously funny-but not without a few pacing issues. I give ArtsWest's "Peerless" an A- for a clever take on a darkly comic adaptation of a Shakespearean classic.

"Peerless" performs at ArtsWest through February 11, 2018. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.artswest.org.

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From This Author Amelia Reynolds

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