Peerless by Jiehae Park - MacBeth Meets College Admissions

by Kitty Chou '99

On a rainy February night in Seattle, Cynthia Chang '01, David Lott '98, and I got together for a little "Magnet Culture Night." The three of us went to the Arts West Theater to see Peerless, a play written by our very own Jiehae Park '98. We got there a few minutes before the show started and the theater was packed; it was a full house on a Friday evening.

Peerless is a modern-day adaption of MacBeth that follows the story of two Asian-American twin sisters M and L and their plot to gain the one coveted early admission spot at “The College.” When they find out that the spot has gone to another classmate who is a white male that is 1/16th Native American, they start down a path of clever scheming that turns deadly. The director of Arts West's production, Sara Porkalob, described Peerless as "funny, irreverent and playful, and really politically incorrect and astutely correct at the same time." A review in the Seattle Times called it a "carefully honed play," praising the "staccato rhythm of [the] dialogue, pinging back and forth between characters."

“Your spot in the class of 2020 has been taken,” M reads ruefully.

L: “Occupied.”

M: “Seized.”

L: “Usurped.”

As she thinks back to high school and her career that followed, Jiehae offers these words of wisdom: “It'll be okay . . . What you're doing of course matters, but no one thing is going to determine the outcome of your life — that's a much more complicated, beautiful accumulation of many different decisions and strokes of luck.”

But when she went to Amherst, Jiehae majored in drama. And then she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego. She had some early success writing scripts, and she wrote Peerless for the Soho Repertory Theatre Writer/Director Lab in 2014. After its 2015 debut at the Yale Repertory Theatre, Peerless was staged by several more theater companies around the country in subsequent years. In 2017, there were runs of Peerless at the Marin Theater Company, the Den Theatre in Chicago, and the Boston Public Library. Another one of Jiehae's plays, Hannah and the Dread Gazebo, had its world premier at the 2017 Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Our little group of Magnet alumni found it to be thoroughly enjoyable - it managed to be witty, dark, and humorous. For us, it was a truly fun evening of culture, reminiscing, and friendship. We all left the theater thinking that we should really do this more often and how much the play reminded us of our own high school days. It took me back to my own senior year at Blair, stressing out about which colleges I would get in to and what extracurriculars I should be doing to assure me the best chances of getting in to the most coveted schools.

After watching the play, I reached out to Jiehae to see how much inspiration she drew from her own Blair Magnet experience when writing Peerless. She commented that she was able to “draw on and exaggerate the way things felt back [in high school] . . . like THAT MOMENT was going to determine the rest of our lives, so we had to act and choose perfectly.” When Peerless debuted in 2015, she told the New York Times that in high school, “I wanted to be involved in theater . . . but I didn’t think it was allowed. It just wasn’t something that people like me — Asian child of immigrant scientists — did.”