PEERLESS Puts Being the Best of the Best Under a Microscope

PEERLESS Puts Being the Best of the Best Under a Microscope

Pictured: Aurora Adachi-Winter and Caroline Chu. Photo by Ian McLaren.

Review: PEERLESS at First Floor Theater

By Jonald Reyes

A ‘model minority’ is a minority class which is assumed to achieve a higher degree of success than others — hence, being a “model” for others to follow. According to a national finding in the 2010 Census, “About one-half of those who identified their race as Asian alone had received a bachelor’s degree or higher, the highest proportion among the racial categories.” This, in turn, has Asians/Asian Americans reaching higher economic status than most other races, including Caucasians. Although this may sound like the perception a person wants, it’s become a stereotype. As Asian Americans are being labeled the model minority, Jiehae Park’s PEERLESS shows us the internal perspective of living up to and beyond that expectation.

In this 90-minute play, M & L (Aurora Adachi-Winter & Caroline Chu) are Asian-American twins at a high school who already rank amongst the best in academics, but it’s not enough. M wants nothing less than to achieve an early admissions package from The College and as others are receiving their notifications, her sister L persuades their motives to murderous proportions. As we delve into their current lifestyles and hear them plotting to greatness, the twins face their first needed murder in the form of a nervous, talkative nerd played by Jess Massaro. The suspense begins at their school dance, but the deed is done when the twins seduce him at his house. Not to reveal too much, Massaro’s exceptional commitment to this character shines during vulnerable moments when he shares personal stories to M. While M isn’t the only one to grow affection for this nerd, the audience becomes invested in his death and can truly feel the weight as Massaro plays his suffering to a well-balanced T. After the first murder occurs, the storyline picks up pace with paranoia, internal conflict, and further extreme actions.

Adachi-Winter and Chu sustain the energy of the play through their tempo and rhythm. At times, the speed of delivery and teenage nuance requires listening adjustment, but once you’re acclimated, you’ll discover the cleverly dark comedic tone. The swift exchanges between the twins is like a game of double-dutch, and the two are so wonderfully synced that you may see how their bond allows their evil acts to actualize. Supporting castmates Matt Daniels and Amanda Fink fully flesh out the high school archetypes of the jock and the goth-alt. The small cast does the play well in simple fashion.

Audibly decorated by electronic pop-rock music and mixed with visually appealing light sequences, Director Hutch Pimentel, and his stage design crew function wonderfully on a straight-out high school hallway backdrop. We really see the best use of simplicity in two instances — after the murder on a dark, smokey path, and a nightmare sequence in the twins’ bedroom. Smoke and light set the environment remarkably.

The structure of Park’s play is an interesting take on Shakespeare’s MACBETH —the modernization and the selection of plot points highlight the anatomy of the classic play. It’s very satisfying to hear an Asian-American voice in this context. Being labeled a model minority plays into a subtle parallel to this storyline. Seeing the academic pressures push the students to extremities adds the great driving force that keeps the audience invested within PEERLESS.

About author

Jonald Jude Reyes

Jonald Jude Reyes is a Writer, Performer & Director in Chicago, IL. His works have been performed in various theaters city-wide, including Stage 773, The Annoyance, and The Second City. In 2016, he was named Best of Stage Director by the Chicago Reader and was selected to the DirectorsLabChicago program. Learn more at