Monday, September 26, 2016

Peerless and 4000 Miles

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
'peerless' at Moxie

Playwright Jihae Park is young, female, and much commissioned, and for no other reason deserves our attention. Her new play, peerless, is currently produced by Moxie Theatre, and, since I’m playing catch-up (always, these days, was seen by this old female Friday, September 23, when it had had an entire week to gel.

Peerless is unusual to say the least, even in a world where Shakespeare riffs are common. It takes as launch pad and framework the Bard’s bloodthirsty Macbeth, the play referred to within theater confines as “The Scottish Play.” It was much fun, therefore, to attend a brief, post-performance conversation with Moxie Associate Artistic Director Jennifer Eve Thorn; the play’s dramaturge, Naysan Mojgani; and SDSU professor D. J. Hopkins, who several times actually said the name of the Scottish Play aloud and thereafter performed the spinning, spitting and running ritual required to dispel the curse that is said to accompany such infraction. The audience, which was composed of several groups and us civilians, was so fired up by the play and the ensuing chat that they still lingered in the lobby when I left.

Directed with great inventiveness by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, peerless is well cast and well played, certainly a hallmark of the theater, which has a mission to promote women. As if to the manner born Dana Wing Lau and Jyl Kaneshiro portray college-bound twins, M and L respectively, living in Midwestern suburbia, where they have been placed intentionally by family in order to have a better chance at getting into “The College,” which no doubt has ivy covered walls.

Dana Wing Lau and Jyl Kaneshiro
Photo by Jennifer Eve Thorn
As conceived by the playwright and abetted by Sonnenberg, M and L are so close they speak a patois all their own, a sort of rapid-fire patter that takes some time to fall intelligibly on the listener’s ear. Their relationship, as they plot to eliminate academic rivals for the spot they seek (most likely for M), is love-hate and changes almost imperceptibly over the course of the play, in which they eliminate all rivals, exhorted by a weird classmate, Dirty Girl, played by Thorn in wondrous scary makeup and a brilliant, wild, blond wig. First to be eliminated is an affable, sexually and socially inept nerd named D, played by Justin Lang. D stands for Duncan, of course. Then comes the offing of BF, (boyfriend?) played by Vimel Sephus, a stand-in for another of Macbeth’s victims.

There is much to admire in Shelly Williams’ costume design, especially for the twins. Missy Bradstreet is credited with wig design -- brava, indeed.

Peerless is surely wild and imaginative, and as with the audience Friday night is bound to engender vociferous and lengthy discussions, especially among academics and students of Shakespeare. What fun to pick out the allusions.

Played over 70 minutes without an interval, peerless continues through October 9 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. $30 with discounts for groups, seniors, students, military and AASD members. or 858-598-7620.

4000 Miles at ion

Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles (Obie for best new play) is a neat little play to be seen through October 15 at ion theatre’s BlkBox, Sixth @Penn in Hillcrest. The play is neat in construction. It is unhurried letting observers in on the whole picture; therefore, this will be a sketchy review because I don’t want to spoil its delicious unfolding for you. Suffice it to say that the work concerns a severely dysfunctional family, of which we see only two members: the rest hover over all else that happens.

Leo (ever fascinating and appealing Connor Sullivan) has arrived unexpected in New York City, having ridden his bicycle clear across the nation, suffering from unbearable grief. He appears at his widowed, wildly left-leaning grandmother’s (Vera, played by Jill Drexler) roomy Greenwich Village apartment. She tells him he can stay only a few days, but he stays much longer. In truth he cares for her deeply and she, for him. She has early onset dementia and is quite upset at “not being able to find my words.” As they talk and reconnect, he has time to put himself together, and she enjoys his company. It’s a sweet, fraught relationship through which we learn about the other family members, and the pair’s unconventional lives and deep undercurrent of need.
Connor Sullivan and Jill Drexler
Photo by Daren Scott

The other characters are Leo’s former girlfriend, Bec (Michelle Marie Trester), and two others played by Yumi Roussin, Leo’s sister and an attractive young woman he picks up in a neighborhood bar.

4000 Miles lasts only 95 minutes and is highly recommended as directed by ion Founding Artistic Director Claudio Raygoza, who provides scenic, lighting and props design. Connor and Drexler are so good I could watch them all night long. Glenn Paris is responsible for the apropos costumes. Herzog is someone to watch. or 619-600-5020.

There will likely be a column here next week. Meanwhile, look for my other reviews in Uptown, Downtown and Gay San Diego

 at and in news racks.

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