In June, the Supreme Court struck down decades of precedent by gutting affirmative action programs at colleges and universities throughout the country. With college admissions becoming increasingly competitive, the recent ruling only increases the anxiety thousands of students feel as they curate the perfect application to gain one of the few coveted spots at the college or university of their choice. This world of paranoia and scarcity where identity is carefully crafted and weaponized sets the stage for Jiehae Park’s Peerless. Adapted from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Peerless conveys the perils of Asian-American twins M and L’s unchecked ambition as they mercilessly manipulate and murder their classmates for the chance to attend “The College.” Although an overwhelmingly dark piece filled with toil and trouble, Angel Katthi’s ʼ24 senior thesis production of Peerless proved to be a poignant and surprisingly humorous rendition of this relevant play.
Held in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts’ Black Box Theatre on September 28, 29 and 30, Peerless featured an intimate cast of five phenomenal actors led by Noёlle Romero ʼ24 as the ambitious yet sympathetic M and Katherine Lynn-Rose ʼ25 as her conniving twin sister L. Even from the first moments of the show, the two actresses impressively tackled Park’s fast-paced, short staccato lines as they used the energetic language to enliven the obsessive and threatened world they inhabit. Throughout the production, Romero ʼ24 and Lynn- ʼ25 maintained the intensity of their performances, playing off of each other skillfully to create an interchangeable power dynamic in which the audience could never fully tell who was in control until the play’s shocking end.
Juxtaposing M and L’s unrelenting nature, D, played by the hilarious Oscar Llodra ʼ25, captured the geeky charm of a classmate who uses his 1/16th Native American heritage to claim M’s spot at “The College.” While many actors default to playing D as a stereotypical, annoying nerd, Llodra ʼ25 breathed life into his character, leading M to feel guilty about killing him for his admissions spot and creating an opportunity for Llodra to convincingly transform into D’s Brother who seeks revenge later in the play. Paralleling the witches in Macbeth, Davis Ouriel ʼ25 also gave a transformative performance as Dirty Girl and Preppy Girl, using precise vocal and physical choices to masterfully transition between the creepy, cryptic classmate who foresees L and M’s future and the sweet, outgoing peer that L meets at “The College.” Rounding out the night of top-tier performances was BF or the Banquo to our Macbeth, M, played by the delightful Karys Everett ʼ25, who levied the play’s more serious moments with sarcastic commentary and cutting humor. Although many productions of Peerless will solely play into the archetypes of this wicked Shakespearean satire, under Katthi’s direction, the cast found nuance through Park’s witty language and multi-faceted characterizations, enabling the play’s piercing themes to come to the fore.
Further supporting these performances were the thoughtful design choices that informed the production’s dark atmosphere. One of the critical elements of the production was the vibrant costumes designed by Caroline Ryan ʼ24, which established the characters’ personalities and relationships. For instance, when M and L first stepped onstage, the audience instinctively understood that they were twins by their matching school uniform with distinctive neon yellow and pink headbands and backpacks that hinted at M and L’s differing personalities yet similar desires. The bright, modern costumes also heightened the play’s satire by paralleling the vivid costumes often seen on popular TV shows about high school students, only for this image to be inverted as the play grew darker.
The anchoring point of the show was the minimalist, multi-purpose set designed by Isa Goico ʼ24 comprised of a row of bright blue lockers that created the school hallway as well as the background for several other spaces, such as a living room and bedroom when turned around. Given the play’s intense pacing, the ability to quickly and seamlessly transition between locations proved pivotal in maintaining the actors’ energy and the audience’s interest in witnessing the plot unfold. Stemming from the effective set design was the purposeful lighting design by Jillian Parrino ʼ25 and dynamic sound design by Isaac Newcomb ʼ23 that heightened the action without detracting from the play’s critical scenes. One of the most chilling moments of the show was the final scene when the lockers were stripped away to create a bare stage that represented the quad of “The College.” While hearing the chimes of the bell tower and the chirping of birds as L stepped onto the quad bathed in warm light, the audience was left to contemplate the darkest moment of the show as L reconciled her past with her present and future.
While the play serves as an apt adaptation of Macbeth and a dark satire of the world of college admissions, with the recent Supreme Court ruling and the increasingly cutthroat college application process, Peerless demonstrates that its exaggerated world may not be too far from our own. As the Bard said best, even “the instruments of darkness tell us truths.” By combining the talents of an incredible cast, crew and creative team, Katthi’s senior thesis production of Peerless successfully prompted audiences to reflect on the relationship between identity and success and to question what parts of ourselves have we sacrificed to secure an insecure future.
Emily Pugh is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].