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Oakland Tribune, March 28, 2006


'Macbeth' goes to preschool with Shotgun's 'Bright Ideas'

-- By Chad Jones, STAFF WRITER

MURDER, blackmail, embezzlement — gee, it sure takes a lot to get a kid into a good preschool these days.

When Shakespeare wrote "Macbeth" about 400 years ago, there's no way he could have possibly imagined that his bloody tale of vaulting ambition would serve as the framework for a darkly comic satire about preschool anxiety.

Playwright Eric Coble saw the possibilities, and with a little assist from Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth, created "Bright Ideas," a play about just what a parent is willing to do for a beloved child to get a leg up in the world.

Instead of Scottish kings and queens, Coble takes us into a cutthroat world of parents who put their children on preschool waiting lists at birth and then stop at nothing to make certain that waiting becomes acceptance when the time is right.

Berkeley's Shotgun Players give Coble's "Ideas" a sharp, funny production that makes excellent use of the Ashby Stage (the bright orange-and-red set is by James J. Fenton, and the lighting by Robert Anderson).

The darkness inherent in a story of parents committing murder to free up a spot in their most desired preschool keeps threatening to turn the satire into out-and-out drama.

Director Mary Guzman, working with some adept actors, battles the darkness with some well-staged comedy, not the least of which is a sock puppet showdown between Mr. Doodle and Mr. Frowny.

If you know your "Macbeth," you'll appreciate all of Coble's references, but if Shakespeare isn't your bag, not to worry. This is a world of juice boxes and play dates. No one even mentions the Thane of Cawdor.

The ambitious villain here is Genevra (Anna Ishida), a frazzled working mom who only wants the best for her 3-year-old son, Mac. It's her idea to kill one of the moms (Melanie Case) at Bright Ideas, a posh preschool that practically ensures your child will get into the Ivy League in 15 years.

Genevra can't quite screw her courage to the sticking place, so her husband Joshua (Ben Ortega) gives her a push. Rather than bloody daggers, the weapon here is poisoned pesto.

The build-up to the murder turns out to be a lot more interesting than the aftermath. Genevra becomes a monster, inspiring fear in the hearts of the school's parents and teachers, and Joshua becomes a drunk.

The finale — a birthday party complete with gunshots, flying ghosts and Genevra's wrestling match with a pregnant woman — should be a vortex of hilarity, but it's really more of a chaotic mess.

Still, there's enough in this evil two-hour romp to satisfy. Ishida really lights up after the murder and seems to relish her character's power-hungry madness. Case, in a variety of roles, is consistently hilarious, as are Rami Margron and Calum Grant as various parents and assorted folks.

Shakespeare would probably like "Bright Ideas" because it's clever, fun and full of pointed humor designed to cause discomfort. Shakespeare, after all, is the guy who pointed out that "there's daggers in men's smiles."

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