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Theater Review: Bright Ideas:

Laurie Robin Rosenthal

 

Anyone with a child on the Westside knows about preschool.  And what they know is preschool is not just preschool.  Parents are taught that preschool shapes a child in ways that remain forever.  The right preschool helps a child get into the right elementary school and then, eventually, the right college, which of course, one day, leads to the perfect career.  The right preschool helps a child blossom in a multitude of ways.  So, choosing the right preschool, often when the child is barely born, is of monumental importance.

For those who have gone through the preschool trials (and this reviewer spent more mental effort getting her son into preschool than she herself did getting into UC Berkeley), Bright Ideas is funny, poignant and everything any parent of a young would-be preschooler, preschooler or post-preschooler can relate to. 

Genevra (Michelle Danner) and Joshua (Brian Drillinger) buy into the belief that the perfect preschool will better their son Mac’s life forever.  Doors will magically open, disappointment will simply step aside.  This is reinforced by any parent they meet; all success in life certainly points to Bright Ideas.  “Bright Ideas makes all the difference,” one parent gushes.

After committing a heinous act to get little Mac into Bright Ideas, Genevra goes from meek mom to emboldened superwoman.  She wants little Mac to be perfect, and enlists a coach, acting teacher and enunciation specialist to help.  Though initially more enthusiastic about doing whatever it takes to get Mac started on the right path, Joshua sinks deep into an alcoholic depression, even drinking booze out of his son’s sippy cup, after committing their dirty deed.

All of the characters are humorous, many in a way that parents who have faced the preschool dilemma can appreciate.  Anyone who has ever applied to a Westside preschool knows the drill: are we ethnic enough, WASPy enough, rich enough, sophisticated enough, involved enough in the community and so on. 

One of the play’s truly precious moments is when a group of parents at a park are discussing, with utmost earnestness, how pretty much everything is set with the child’s personality by ages 4-5. One of the funniest lines of the play, and there are many, is, “You get him to four and your parenting job is almost over.”  Tell that to parents with children in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s when the kids come begging for down payment loans.  

The airplane scene, with Kevin Small as the gay steward, alone is worth the price of admission.  So that’s what an inflated airline vest looks like!  Small is also wonderful as a parent who talks about 43 “consecutive games of shoots and ladders.”

The performances were stellar.  Rounding out the cast are Ali Elk and Michelle Anne Johnson.  Each, along with Small, plays a handful of characters, all believable, all people you feel you’ve met before.  Neil Kinsella’s direction moves the piece along.  The writing (Eric Coble), while witty and meaningful most of the time, did occasionally drag and fall into a bit of melodrama now and again.  Bright Ideas is worth a night out away from that ever-demanding, ever-lovable creature you call your child.

Bright Ideas, Fridays and Saturdays, 8pm, through May 20, Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., 310.392.7327.

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