“Peerless”: Channeling the Asian-American Perspective on the Culture of College Admissions

What is the stigma of being surrounded by high expectations? PMA’s upcoming play, Peerless written by Jiehae Park, explores such a question through the Asian-American perspective from the angle of the college admissions process.

A dark narrative of competition, doubt, and downfall told through the eyes of two high school students, the themes in Peerless align seamlessly with its central inspiration, the age-old tale of Macbeth. The play is an overlap of classic themes with the modern struggle for success, which is communicated through emotions, actions, and dialogue that the Cornell student body can easily resonate with.

“Thematically, the show explores the same questions as Macbeth,” said Angel Katthi ’24, the director of the play. “It’s a story about the perils of unchecked ambition, reaching ends through violent means, and ultimately, fate. Park lays these ideas carefully into one of the most contentious moments of a young adult’s life – college admissions.”

The synthesis of the play was one that required sensitivity and attention to detail; in order to precisely portray the standpoint of Asian-American students preparing for college, much in-depth analyses of both interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions within such a niche were needed.

“My process began with asking myself what I wanted to see,” explained Katthi, when asked to describe her planning stage. “I was looking for a story that was exciting, challenging, and honest, but also personal.”

An accurate and meaningful representation, continued Katthi, has always been present at the core of her storytelling process. It is crucial to unlock opportunities to create space for Asian-American artists, who are particularly underrepresented in the playwriting industry, according to Katthi.

To accomplish such a meaning, Peerless makes a thorough elaboration on the immigrant narrative, which inevitably views success as a path to belonging. This haunting story of teenagers raised to equate success with their identity delivers not only a powerful message of sacrifice and control, but questions of what is “good enough” as well.

“I hope the audience takes the time to understand the characters,” said Katthi. “I hope they remember what it was like to be 17, 18 and to feel the weight of your entire future printed on an admissions letter. Beyond empathy, I hope the audience learns from the characters’ mistakes.”

Peerless then asks the audience: what have you sacrificed, denied, or dismissed in the pursuit of success?

Performances will take place on Thursday, Sept 28th at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Sept 29th at 5:00 p.m.; and Saturday, Sept 30th at 2:00 pm and 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre, Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, 430 College Ave, Ithaca NY.

Free tickets are available at pma.cornell.edu/tickets.

Content warning of the play includes discussion of attempted suicide, moments of violence, graphic and racially charged language, body shaming, fat-phobia, and ableist slurs.

“Peerless” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc. www.concordtheatricals.com

Erin Yoon '26 is a communications assistant in the Department of Performing and Media Arts.

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Peerless poster