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S.F. Chronicle, March 28, 2006

S.F. Chronicle Review by Robert Hurwitt


Play on, Mac: Their names are Genevra and Joshua, but the pressures of getting their 3-year-old son into a prestigious preschool have them acting a lot like Mrs. and Mr. Macbeth. That's one of the many pleasures of Eric Coble's very funny and wickedly pointed dark comedy of modern manners, "Bright Ideas." The first show in Shotgun Players' 2006 season opened Thursday at the company's Ashby Stage in director Mary Guzmán's sharply paced, buoyantly cutthroat and brightly performed production.

It's a reverse-gender "Macbeth." Much of the hilarity stems from Coble's clever suburban parenting riffs on Shakespeare's characters, plot and soliloquies, with poisoned pesto standing in for gore ("Is this a blender that I see before me?") and a fearful duel of sock puppets. But "Ideas" does not thrive on the Bard alone. Coble's often penetrating satire of preschool pretensions, maternal insecurities and competitive parenting run amok stands on its own.

Ben Ortega is eminently empathetic as the bumbling, overeager father drawn too deeply into his murderous scheme. Rami Margron, Melanie Case and Calum Grant deliver delightful turns (in brightly varied costumes by Valera Coble) as the parents and teachers who get in the way. Anna Ishida anchors the show with a deftly drawn ascent from anxious insecurity to unwilling murderer to ever-more assertive and unscrupulously self-actualized mom.

Highlights include a hilarious scene of cell phone misconduct, a beguilingly staged death by pesto, a couple of cleverly conceived, very incorrect battle scenes and the great apparition of a flying, pasta-bedecked ghost. Most memorable of all, though, is Ishida's simply staged, beautifully nuanced, comically revelatory reading of a children's book that points her way as clearly as her Scottish forebear's dagger. "I'll tear it asunder," the lioness in the story reassures her cub. "I'll hunt and I'll kill. That's what all mothers do."

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