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Moxie Theatre’s ‘Peerless’ Riffs On ‘Macbeth’

New play reimagines Shakespeare’s tale in a modern high school

Moxie Theatre's 'Peerless'

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Companion viewing

"Macbeth" (1971)

"The Silent Twins" (1986)

"Scotland, PA" (2001)

Moxie Theatre strives to showcase female playwrights and plays with dynamic women characters. Its current production "Peerless" offers a reimagining of Shakespeare’s "Macbeth."

Staging Shakespeare for contemporary audiences is always a challenge. But when you’re dealing with "Macbeth," you also face the curse of the Scottish Play if anyone mentions the title inside the theater. Moxie artistic director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg recently experienced this firsthand.

"We are performing a version of the Scottish Play and I’m afraid somebody may have said it out loud without doing the ritual of spitting and turning around three times and we are now dealing with the consequences," Turner Sonnenberg explained from the lobby of her flooded theater on Sept. 15, the night of the planned second preview performance of "Peerless."

Actress Dana Wing Lau added, "We were supposed to have a preview tonight and it got canceled due to some flooding in the theater. We have saged the theater for protection, just in case. Any time there is a production of the Scottish Play you are not supposed to actually say the name in a theater. Bad things have happened."

But Moxie Theater lived up to its name and braved the flooding to run scenes from Jiehae Park’s "Peerless," which the playwright describes as a riff on Shakespeare’s "Macbeth" but set in a high school.

"I think the themes are very similar if you track it through for ambition," Wing Lau said.

"But in 'Peerless' instead of the throne, the throne is college admissions," Turner Sonnenberg added.

And instead of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, we have M (played by Dana Wing Lau) and L (played by Jyl Kaneshiro), twin sisters who will not be denied entry to the college of their choice.

The playwright also drew on real life twins Jennifer and June Gibbons, who were dubbed the silent twins because they only spoke to each other and spoke in a language of click and sounds they had created.

"They went on an arson rampage and eventually got committed, institutionalized, and they would be in separate cells and creepy things would happen where the nurses would find them in the exact same position at the exact same time but in different cells," Wing Lau said.

"It was just their interaction that they had together that is similar to ours where we kind of speak the same, different language where its that expedited speech we have," Jyl Kaneshiro said.

Turner Sonnenberg directs "Peerless." She said, "The twins whenever they speak to each other they finish each other’s thoughts, even though they speak in a language we understand and not in clicks or grunts or made up language their language is very different together than it is with the other characters."

The play benefits from the fact that actresses Wing Lau and Kaneshiro have worked together before and are friends off stage.

"I think it was good that we knew each other and had a relationship. For me the script has been so hard and I think if you didn’t know the person, just to develop having this relationship would have been really difficult," Wing Lau said.

Out of character, the actresses also seemed to finish each other’s sentences. Their intimacy works well in conveying the dynamics of the twin’s relationship.

But it is a relationship that is quite complex.

"In the world of the play it’s the twins together, and sometimes, one of the things we had to explore is when is it one supporting the other, when is it both of them against the world, and when is it them against each other," Turner Sonneberg added.

"Peerless" reimagines "Macbeth" in a bold new way and satisfies Moxie’s mission of highlighting women playwrights who dare present female characters that defy stereotypes.

"Peerless" runs through Oct. 9 at Moxie Theatre on 6663 El Cajon Blvd.

For more about Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and the curse of The Scottish Play, listen to Cinema Junkie Podcast 80.


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