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SF Gate, March 30, 2006



-- By Reyhan Harmanci

'Bright Ideas': Writer fought to get his kid into a choice school. Seems it's a common battle.

Although playwright Eric Coble wrote "Bright Ideas" with his city of Cleveland in mind, his dark comedy of "Macbeth in a preschool" has hit close to many people's homes.

"Since it's gone out in the world, people keep telling me, that, 'Oh this is so L.A.' or 'This is so New York,' " Coble says. "I guess what's good for the play is bad for the country."

"Bright Ideas" is about two parents who get increasingly desperate to get their child into the "right" preschool. Coble says he was inspired by the growth of books aimed at teaching (and scaring) parents about different theories on childhood development.

"I don't think people knew they were doing it wrong," Coble says, laughing. "It used to be that you had a job, you had kids, but around the '50s and '60s, people started writing books about how there's a better way. With Dr. Spock and others, it became a whole section of the bookstore."

"A lot of 'Bright Ideas' is based on the premise that you can tell who the child is by the time they're a 3-year-old -- you only have three years to shape them. It's one theory that these parents really buy into.

"This preschool has 98 percent of its graduates go on to Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth, and these parents are next on the waiting list. They've only got one week till school starts."

Coble's play premiered in Cleveland in the fall of 2002, and since then it's been staged in big cities and small towns across the country. He's been lucky, he says, to make a living as a playwright, but clearly there's more than luck involved. The increasingly absurd competition to get kids into the good schools at ages when they can't read or count has been chronicled as a rite of passage for privileged parents.

"It came out of my own experience, although my lawyers have advised me not to say that," Coble says. "After watching myself and friends of mine as parents, when you have this deep love coupled with deep fear -- you want absolutely the best for your children. It's about who defines what the best is, and how far you're willing to go."

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