Once again, for Moxie Theatre, less is more. Last month, Moxie closed its 11th season with a super-successful run of “Ruthless,” a campy musical about a grade-school girl who will stop at nothing to get the lead in her school play. Now Moxie starts its 12th season with the aptly-named “peerless,” a wickedly comic non-musical about twin high-school girls who will stop at nothing to get into their dream college.
The twins are Asian-American, the college is Harvard- or Yale-ish, and the playwright, Jiehae Park, cites as her two inspirations Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and the real-life, modern-day Gibbons sisters, identical twins who communicate in their own invented language.
The Gibbons sibs, black twins growing up in a white Welsh town, are too close for comfort, sharing a taste for crime sprees, attempted murder and suicide that led to a long confinement in a psychiatric hospital and ended with the death of one of the two. And, although Shakespeare might not recognize much of his Scottish play in “peerless,” where the teen twins, M and L, are stand-ins for Mac and his Lady, D is a motor-mouth, not-quite-kingly Duncan, with problems of his own, and the wild Dirty Girl is a new kind of witchy, both the real-life and literary influences are clear, with Park putting her own warp-speed spin on them.
The fact is: Unless you’re a linguistic conservative with FORL (Fear of Raw Language) “peerless” is a must-see for lovers of weird and wonderful theater. The writing, the cast and the production are all top-drawer. There’s nothing lower-case about this play but its title.
The opening is an immediate grabber: the loud thud of a falling admissions packet and a stunning rap-rhythm convo by the two sisters, who, except for the color of their backpacks, look pretty close to identical, especially (as they say later on) to white people.
They rage about their college app results: L stayed back a year to avoid competition, but now M has been denied early acceptance. You see right away how they feel about each other and about the nervy someone; a 1/16th Native American male student who’s taken M’s well-deserved place as a double minority — a girl and an Asian — at The College. And the plotting begins.
Dana Wing Lau and Jyl Kaneshiro are terrific as M and L, “the doer” and “the pusher.” Jennifer Eve Thorn — Moxie’s associate artistic director — is barely recognizable but memorable as the psychic weirdo, Dirty Girl. (She also appears as Preppy Girl at the play’s end.) Justin Lang comes on strong as D, the nerdy early-admissions acceptee, whose nonstop chatter, loaded with positive-thinking, masks heavy issues, including a severely disabled brother, whom Lang also plays. Vimel Sephus has a less notable part as M’s sometime boyfriend, but he’s good, too.
“Peerless” is a contemporary tale of ambition, love and murder that’s full of surprises, and manages to win sympathy for its characters, despite the profusion of comic lines. The show looks and sounds great as well, and the power behind it all is Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, Moxie’s multi-award-winning Founding Artistic Director. If you’re an adventurous theatergoer, you won’t want to miss this one.
IF YOU GO: “Peerless” is onstage at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego. 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday/Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 9. Tickets: $30. Discounts available. (858) 598-7620. moxietheatre.com
About the Playwright
Now based in New York City, Jiehae Park is an award-winning playwright who received her MFA in Theater at UC San Diego.
As an actor, she appeared several times at La Jolla Playhouse, listing among her skills stage combat (hand-to-hand, rapier, broadsword), partner dancing, classical voice, piano, whistling, and tournament poker dealer.
‘Peerless’ premiered at Yale Repertory Theatre in 2015.