Jiehae Park Riffs on Macbeth for the High-School Set Dark Comedy Peerless | Playbill

Q&A Jiehae Park Riffs on Macbeth for the High-School Set Dark Comedy Peerless

Park takes on ambition, stereotypes, and Shakespeare in her play about killer twins pursuing their dreams of attending an elite college.

Jiehae Park
Jiehae Park

What’s a little murder compared to a spot at the college of your dreams? Jiehae Park’s dark comedy peerless follows Asian-American twins M and L, played by Sasha Diamond (Teenage Dick) and Shannon Tyo (The Chinese Lady) as they face exactly that. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Park distills the tragedy into a new work which re-examines ambition through the pressures of the scarcity mindset on individuals, and how we all fulfill—and defy—stereotypes.

Previews began September 24 for the Primary Stages production at Off-Broadway’s 59E59 Theaters for a run through November 6. Joining Diamond and Tyo in the cast are Marié Botha (Dickinson), Anthony Cason (Oklahoma!), and Benny Wayne Sully (My First Native American Boyfriend). Margot Bordelon directs. Read more below about how Park found the balance points between old texts and new ideas, comedy and tragedy, and developing the play’s thematic explorations as well as its lyrical dialogue.

Peerless is inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. What was your approach to using the Shakespeare tragedy?
Jiehae Park: I wrote that first scene in a rush, and then I thought, “Oh, I guess I’m going to do a riff on this play. I know I don’t want to re-read it.” What I did is I pulled out a sheet of paper and I started writing out like eight or nine bullet points of moments or events that I responded to in the Scottish play. That sort of filtered stuff for me. Like, there’s a certain point in Macbeth where I always fall asleep in any production that I see. So, I thought, “Okay, I’m just not going to worry about that part, because that part that doesn’t draw me in and I’m not trying to do a one-to-one adaptation. I’ll just do these things that interest me, and trust that structure, and hold it lightly—and hopefully, be playful with it, but not feel beholden to any borrowed plot points or remixing. There’s a certain deadliness that can come in with trying to do something correctly with these plays and I wanted it to feel fun.

Sasha Diamond and Shannon Tyo in Peerless
Sasha Diamond and Shannon Tyo in Peerless James Leynse

You also had to find the balancing point with the play’s tone as peerless is a dark comedy.
Park: It depends very much on the audience. The play has been done quite a bit around the country. Some people don’t know if they’re allowed to laugh or don’t feel comfortable, so there is some calibration that happens with every production. Everything I write tends to have some vein of that color. This is maybe the darkest of anything I’ve written. I grew up with Heathers and Mean Girls.

The dialogue has an almost lyrical nature. How did you develop that?
Park: I heard this play. When I was writing, I really heard it. Partly, I think it’s because I was a music major in college. I’m not like a professional level anything, but I have a fair amount of time invested. There’s the arias where there is a new quality to the relationship of texts or a large block of text, and callbacks…so I think a lot of that came from my love of certain plays, including Shakespeare.

Shannon Tyo, Sasha Diamond, and Benny Wayne Sully in Peerless
Shannon Tyo, Sasha Diamond, and Benny Wayne Sully in Peerless James Leynse

How do you hope to get audiences to rethink how they view others?
Park: The characters start off in a way that seems very stereotypical, and the hope is that over the course of the play, we actually see these people who we dismiss or categorize or stereotype. Part of the reason they seem like such stereotypes is because of all of these aspects we don’t necessarily look at.

 
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