REVIEW: ‘Peerless’ Burns the House Down

Human Race Theater’s production is fast paced, frenetic, quick witted, and a jaw-dropping delight to sink your teeth into.

by Willie Caldwell

Peerless by Jiehae Park is a dark, comedic interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in the ultra-ambitious cutthroat world of Ivy League college admissions. Twins M and L will do anything to secure their spot, including eliminating the competition by any means necessary.

Reminiscent of Mean Girls (which is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) and Ten Things I Hate About You (a retelling of Taming of the Shrew) Park’s play blends dark, sadistic humor with a contemporary examination of the ultra-elite college application process. The production is well-timed, given the current state of challenges plaguing higher education including rising costs, declining enrollment, legislative leashes, and convoluted policies on admissions making national headlines on a regular basis.

Plot of Peerless

Human Race Theater’s production is fast paced, frenetic, quick witted, and a jaw-dropping delight to sink your teeth into. The play opens with a lightning fast dialogue exchange between twins M (played by Dinithi Fernando) and L (played by Palini Sunkara) as they set the stage for a confusing, heart pounding thrill ride that is a metaphor for the college application process itself. When it is discovered that rival applicant D (played by Matthew Shanahan) is 1/16 Native American and offered the last spot at “The College,” the twins go on a murder spree to change their fate and receive the coveted admissions acceptance letter. 

To the Shakesperian aficionado, the characters’ letter names help navigate the primary roles with M largely serving the role of Macbeth, L manipulating from the sidelines in the vein of Lady Macbeth, and D meeting his fate similar to Duncan. The trio is balanced by the Boyfriend (played by Dominique Owen) and Dirty Girl (played by Sydney Freihofer) who represents the future telling soothsayer Hecate. What unfolds, is a fast paced, heart pounding thrill ride that leaves some audience goers confused and others relishing in violent delights and violent ends.

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

Rapid Fire Pacing

Under the direction of Marya Spring Cordes, the ensemble cast is a delight to watch. Their rapid fire pacing grabs your attention and keeps it for roughly 90 minutes. The speed at which they deliver their lines is astonishing–which is a big part of what makes the play funny. Cordes does a solid job of allowing the humor of the play to breathe while drawing strong contrasts to the hyper-tense tragedy as it unfolds. The play is genuinely funny… until it’s not.

Production Elements

The set is representational with a few interesting transformations. Scenic Designer Ray Zupp makes use of the theater’s thrust stage with tight, well-rehearsed transitions that make it a joy to see professional theater on this level. Sound designer James Dunlap works to create an atmosphere of subdued tension that builds throughout the experience.

Overall, Peerless Will Get your Heart Racing!

Overall, in Peerless, the elements come together to create an immersive, wild experience that is sure to get your heart racing and elevate your blood pressure. Just like the actual process of applying to Ivy League colleges. Audiences who enjoy taking a walk on the darker side won’t want to miss production.

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


Peerless runs April 25th through May 12th at the Human Race Theater Company located at 126 N. Main Street, Dayton, OH 45402. Purchase your tickets through the box office by visiting or by calling (937) 228-3630.

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