REVIEW: Gripping HS Tragedy in ‘Peerless’ at Human Race Theatre Company

If you’ve ever wondered what a sound designer does, do NOT miss this fantastic production. The way James Dunlap scores the scenes with ominous instrumentals and percussive hallucinations will keep your heart rate high and your senses on alert.

By Emily Clemenson

Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company presents Jiehae Park’s Peerless, with Marya Spring Cordes as director. The play is loosely a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The main characters, high school twins M (Dinithi Fernando) and L (Palini Sunkara), are shocked when another student, D (Matthew Shanahan), gets the only coveted acceptance letter to The College, so they plot to kill him. One murder leads to another, and another, and chaos of who did what to whom builds and builds until it finally explodes. 

The shining star of this fantastic show is the stellar sound design by James Dunlap. If you’ve ever wondered what a sound designer does besides scene transition music, do not miss this production. The way Dunlap scores the scenes with ominous instrumentals and percussive hallucinations will keep your heart rate high and your senses on alert. Pair the sound design with John Rensel’s lighting and the audience is pulled between reality and illusion and back in thrillingly disorienting ways. Cordes directs the cast and crew to utilize the entire space–stage and aisles. Rensel’s light focus draws the audience’s attention in all directions with a literal dazzling finale. 

The Cast

Fernando and Sunkara are the perfect duo as twins M and L. The script flies in this show and these two have impeccable timing with overlapping lines and half-finished sentences. They are delightful sinister when they are together, each one pulling the other deeper into their dark spiral whenever one starts to come to her senses.

HRT'S Cast of "Peerless."
HRT’S Cast of “Peerless.”

The tight writing continues in other scenes when any of the three supporting characters are included in the dialogue. Matthew Shanahan as D (and D’s brother) exudes an awkward and frantic energy as a high school outcast who is introduced as the enemy but quickly transitions to someone likable, sympathetic and reflective beyond his years. Shanahan’s physicality of his characters is impressive and simultaneously satisfying and horrifying as each meets his demise.

Sydney Freihofer’s Dirty Girl is the modern spin on Shakespeare’s Hecate, the prophesying witch with no public credibility but a surprisingly accurate track record, if only her riddles were better understood. Friehofer’s eccentric portrayal is cacophonous and entertaining.

This cast also includes Dominique Owen as BF with a mix of sound advice for our main characters but with a fatal flaw that foreshadows his untimely fall. He’s lovable from the beginning, and his unfortunate involvement with M and L give his otherwise innocuous actions dire consequences. 

HRT'S Cast of "Peerless."
HRT’S Cast of “Peerless.”

Themes of Peerless

On a deeper level, Peerless examines stereotypes between Asian Americans and their peers.  Assistant Director Alan Kim writes that Asians tend to be seen as homogenous and that individual preferences and talents are often lost.

“As you watch the play,” Kim writes, “keep in mind that notions of the Asian monolith, success as the only measure of worth, and competition over connection are deeply ingrained in American psyche.”

Peerless is about diversity and adversity. It’s about the immature decisions young adults make when facing disappointment. It’s about codependency and love and loneliness. And It’s about elements of humanity that are relatable to us all, but set in a generation many of us have no connection with.

If none of these themes seem relatable to you, come see the show for the sound design and light design. I guarantee you will have a good time.  The show is delightfully dark and (if you can’t tell) filled my little technical-theater-loving heart.

Tickets to Peerless

Peerless runs through May 12 at the Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton. The show runs 79 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are still available for most performances. Purchase your tickets through Dayton Live.

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