Review: UNRIVALED at Seattle Public Theater

Gossip, romance, poetry, Unrivaled has it all!

By: May. 16, 2024
Review: UNRIVALED at Seattle Public Theater
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Review: UNRIVALED at Seattle Public Theater
Alanah Pascual, Pearl Lam, Adele Lim in
Unrivaled at Seattle Public Theater. Photo Credits: Rick Wong

There are countless modern retellings of historical events out there, I could name twenty right now, but Unrivaled does it differently, in a fresh way that deserves to be talked about. The co-production from Seattle Public Theater and SIS Productions is running from now until June 2 at Seattle Public Theater.

Unrivaled tells the slightly fabricated story of Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu, two Japanese writers who have been admired and studied for over 1,100 years. The two likely never met in real life and the show puts a Mean Girls-esque twist on history, dropping us in the middle of their “rivalry” that’s filled with jealousy and all of the drama you could ask for. The show, cleverly written by Rosie Narasaki and masterfully directed by Mimi Katano, proves the importance of accessible historical theatre.

The creative team perfectly modernizes this tale through the use of J-pop transitioning us from scene to scene, and our character's outfits, with the actors beginning with traditional kimonos and eventually shedding down to modernized clothing, designed by Costume Designer Jacqueline Edwards. These recognizable aspects ultimately make this story more accessible to a wider audience.

Unrivaled features Adele Lim (Empress Teishi), Michael Wu (Michinaga/Random Man), Alanah Pascual (Sei Shonagon), and Pearl Lam (Murasaki Shikibu), a tight-knit ensemble that clearly holds a passion for these characters and their history.

Review: UNRIVALED at Seattle Public Theater
Pearl Lam and Adele Lim in Unrivaled at
Seattle Public Theater. Photo Credits: Rick Wong

Adele Lim is absolutely electric as Empress Teishi. Their strong narrative voice coupled with a passionate and fiery portrayal of such an important historical figure instantly drew me in. As is such with each actor, Lim takes the audience on an emotional journey full of highs and lows.

Alanah Pascual and Pearl Lam’s portrayals of our two feuding writers reinvents what I thought I knew about petty fights. Witnessing the desperate fight for justification behind each other's actions provides audience members with a sense of intimacy. Watching Pascual’s fight for maintained status and superiority juxtaposed against Lam’s developing naivety felt like a masterclass in acting. From their individual acting skills to their shared relationship dynamic, the two perfectly complement each other. 

Michael Wu is hilarious, and his portrayal of Michinaga never failed to earn laughter from the audience. He also found pockets of sincerity that moved the house.

The show plays on a split set, designed by Scenic and Props Designer Robin Macartney, that gives us an insider glimpse at how Murasaki and Sei separately spend their time. This design aided in the building of the pair's relationships, allowing them to control who enters their space and highlighting just how important that permission is.

Though I didn’t come into Unrivaled as an expert on the show's history, it is safe to say that I left with a newfound understanding and appreciation of these two women. As noted in her director’s note, Katano hopes that this play will lead audiences to read “Tale of Genji,” Murasaki Shikibu’s work, and “The Pillow Book,” Sei Shonagon’s work. I believe that I, along with my fellow audience members, will be following this advice.

Unrivaled runs from now until June 2 at Seattle Public Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit:


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