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at Rabb Hall Theatre
Boston Public Library, Copley Square
Closed (Ran April 27-May 27)
Identical twins can get away with murder. A duo I know were so hard to differentiate that they once went to an undergraduate Halloween party as each other and people asked why they weren’t in costume. They laughed all the way home. In Jiehae Park’s millenials’ riff on "Macbeth," the twins are high school seniors willing to do anything to achieve the kingdom that is admission to Harvard (here called simply “the College”).
Khloe Alice Lin as L, James Wechsler as D, and Kim Klasner as M in peerless (credit Paul Fox)
M and L (read Macbeth and Lady, but both are girls) are Korean American teenagers whose sole mission in life is to rack up the sort of overachiever points that will get them into the revered halls of ivy. They have moved to a podunk town to up their odds based on geography. L even stays back a grade so that both sisters will have an opportunity—one this year and one next—to be “the” minority student to gain early acceptance.
These girls have no time for social lives, television, pop culture, or anything else that isn’t studying, sports, ballet, or service to the poor in Africa over summer vacation. When the current year’s minority/small town slot goes to a classmate, D (read Duncan, so we know where that’s going), who has recently learned he is one eighteenth Native American and who cares for a brother with cystic fibrosis, the girls flip out and plot redress.
Park claims to have written the first half of the play in just a week, off to the races in a white heat of inspiration. Both the passion and the haste are evident in the final product, where the characters are fun but largely two-dimensional and the language, while it keeps us in “what’s next?” mode, sometimes barely surpasses the discursive level of texting. The witches are a creepy classmate who favors goth clothes and seems to know everyone’s secrets; Macduff is a sleeper boyfriend whom M dumps in the first scene but who returns with an unexpected secret of his own. Credibility is sort of beside the point. An overachiever staying back a year? No parents in sight? Whatever. (To be fair, we never found out in Shakespeare’s play what happened to Lady Macbeth’s curiously absent children.) In the thirty-first century and in the hands of a twenty-something, plot points turn on tree nut allergies, weighted GPAs, and scam text messages.
Kim Klasner as M and Khloe Alice Lin as L are suitably in anxious, ambitious overdrive for most of the evening. Neither, however, generates much depth or sympathy, even when M begins to see that they have gone too far. Brenna Fitzgerald shifts deftly from being Dirty Girl (the high school “witch”) to Preppy Girl, the legacy admit to the College who is written in shorthand as everything to be overcome by the protagonist in "Legally Blonde." Only James Weschsler finds wit, warmth, and wackiness in the hapless but not hopeless D. He is good to his single mom; he takes care of his helpless brother; and he barely expected to finish high school, much less end up in the mecca of higher ed. He is also the only person who seems to be able to tell the twins apart, which he is able to do because he has genuine affection for M.
The production was well served by Jiyoung Han’s efficient scenery and Emmett Buhmann’s evocative lighting. Panels divided into triangles and trapezoids served either as generic high school corridors or as the backdrops for projections (by Seifallah Salotto-Cristobal) creating such things as a dance in the gym or a college campus. My favorite projection was the coveted acceptance letter (do these still arrive on paper?), dropping into the mailboxes of the favored few in slow-mo, twirling, onscreen freefall.
Company One scored big on this production with regard to their mission of inclusiveness. A half dozen sponsors made possible an entire run of pay-what-you-can admission. The newly renovated Rabb Hall has a shallow stage but otherwise is a ridiculously comfortable, accessible, and spanking new theatre with a huge lobby and completely unobstructed sightlines from every seat. And getting there forces playgoers to walk through the lobby of one of America’s most beautiful and best kept libraries.
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