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Instead of floating daggers...

peerless at Moxie Theatre

The cast of peerless
The cast of peerless

Mike Lew’s Tiger Style! at La Jolla Playhouse shows the effects of super-strict parenting on two Chinese-Americans.

Jennifer and Albert dove through every academic hoop cum laude but find themselves a few years later without “life skills.”

Tiger Style!

Jiehae Park’s peerless takes their plight over the woods and through the river. Twins M and L are Asian-American high-schoolers. M has a 4.8 GPA (before adjustment) and an SAT that would have edged Einstein.

Only one person stands between M and a full-boat, special-circumstances scholarship to The College. D is 1/16th Native American, so he qualifies — and gets the invite, which falls from the sky in a fat manila folder.

M would kill for that scholarship!

No, really. And kill again, if necessary. Her single-letter name suggests Shakespeare’s Macbeth, just as twin sister L recalls Lady M, unsexed and prodding blood-soaked hubby to slash his way to the crown. If so, then D could be Duncan, the soon-to-be-slain king, and that strange Dirty Girl — “the bar for crazy” at her school — could be one of the three witches. After all, she shouts “hail, hail” and pesters M with vague promises of ivy-walled glory.

The playwright grafts Macbeth onto the tale of two driven teens. The similarities are obvious and a bit forced. The differences draw some interest. Instead of floating daggers and shimmering ghosts, the twins rely on poisoned cookies and a peanut allergy. And instead of a throne, it’s a scholarship at the school. And given the pressure these days on attending an elite institution, you can bet the twins aren’t the only ones who have the Scottish play in mind.

Moxie Theatre’s opening night was rough in spots. As in Tiger Style — and most likely much “millennial” theater these days — the pace must move like a scrolled iPad: scenes jump and jerk; dialogue, uttered beyond top speed, overlaps; now is was. But the cast cannot be breathless.

The leads — Dana Wing Lau as M, Jyl Kaneshiro as L — had fine moments. But they often had to play catch-up with the pace. They looked a rehearsal or two away from competence...and from nailing the surprise ending, when the title suddenly makes sense.

Shelly Williams’s costumes define character on sight: sane BF (Vimel Sephus, providing solid support, as always); insane Dirty Girl (Jennifer Eve Thorn, a kick as a dreadlocked dervish); and nerdy D (Justin Lang, eccentric genius, does a terrific monologue about D’s spiritual awakening).

Ashleigh Scott’s set looks drab at first: slate-colored concrete, two bulbous freeway pillars. But it’s a useful screen for her many projections, which fill in details and expand the terrain.

peerless is a premise-heavy show: once you make the connection with Macbeth and see how desperate students can be about academic choices, the unfolding must match the urgency. Moxie’s opening night was a “give them a week” performance — to settle in, speak with speed and nuance, and show more convincingly why, when someone says ,“I would kill” for this or that, they may not be kidding.

Playing through October 8

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The cast of peerless
The cast of peerless

Mike Lew’s Tiger Style! at La Jolla Playhouse shows the effects of super-strict parenting on two Chinese-Americans.

Jennifer and Albert dove through every academic hoop cum laude but find themselves a few years later without “life skills.”

Tiger Style!

Jiehae Park’s peerless takes their plight over the woods and through the river. Twins M and L are Asian-American high-schoolers. M has a 4.8 GPA (before adjustment) and an SAT that would have edged Einstein.

Only one person stands between M and a full-boat, special-circumstances scholarship to The College. D is 1/16th Native American, so he qualifies — and gets the invite, which falls from the sky in a fat manila folder.

M would kill for that scholarship!

No, really. And kill again, if necessary. Her single-letter name suggests Shakespeare’s Macbeth, just as twin sister L recalls Lady M, unsexed and prodding blood-soaked hubby to slash his way to the crown. If so, then D could be Duncan, the soon-to-be-slain king, and that strange Dirty Girl — “the bar for crazy” at her school — could be one of the three witches. After all, she shouts “hail, hail” and pesters M with vague promises of ivy-walled glory.

The playwright grafts Macbeth onto the tale of two driven teens. The similarities are obvious and a bit forced. The differences draw some interest. Instead of floating daggers and shimmering ghosts, the twins rely on poisoned cookies and a peanut allergy. And instead of a throne, it’s a scholarship at the school. And given the pressure these days on attending an elite institution, you can bet the twins aren’t the only ones who have the Scottish play in mind.

Moxie Theatre’s opening night was rough in spots. As in Tiger Style — and most likely much “millennial” theater these days — the pace must move like a scrolled iPad: scenes jump and jerk; dialogue, uttered beyond top speed, overlaps; now is was. But the cast cannot be breathless.

The leads — Dana Wing Lau as M, Jyl Kaneshiro as L — had fine moments. But they often had to play catch-up with the pace. They looked a rehearsal or two away from competence...and from nailing the surprise ending, when the title suddenly makes sense.

Shelly Williams’s costumes define character on sight: sane BF (Vimel Sephus, providing solid support, as always); insane Dirty Girl (Jennifer Eve Thorn, a kick as a dreadlocked dervish); and nerdy D (Justin Lang, eccentric genius, does a terrific monologue about D’s spiritual awakening).

Ashleigh Scott’s set looks drab at first: slate-colored concrete, two bulbous freeway pillars. But it’s a useful screen for her many projections, which fill in details and expand the terrain.

peerless is a premise-heavy show: once you make the connection with Macbeth and see how desperate students can be about academic choices, the unfolding must match the urgency. Moxie’s opening night was a “give them a week” performance — to settle in, speak with speed and nuance, and show more convincingly why, when someone says ,“I would kill” for this or that, they may not be kidding.

Playing through October 8

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